Condé Nast Traveller Middle East
HEATHER RICHARDSON susses out safari outfits that are laying control back in the hands of local experts
Before becoming one of the first local camp owners in Kenya’s Maasai Mara, Johnson Ping’ua “Ping” Nkukuu was already something of a trailblazer. The Maasai co-owner of Enaidura Camp ( enaiduracamp. com) has a history of making a stand. He was thrown out of his home for opposing his father when an older man wanted to marry his 18-year-old sister; today, she’s a doctor based in Nairobi, and the family has reunited. Female empowerment is still a focus for him; Nkukuu aims to get more women involved in the male-dominated safari industry and is currently training Sialo “Sarah” Shonko as a guide. There’s plenty of resistance – “a lot of people don’t like change,” Nkukuu notes – but real societal shifts are far more effective when coming from within a community. Nkukuu cofounded Enaidura – six smart tents spread along the shaded banks of the Talek River – with fellow guide Paul Kirui in 2016, marking an overdue turning point. Across the continent, black Africans have very little stake in the safari industry – most owners (and, in South Africa especially, managers and guides, too) are white. The African Travel and Tourism Association estimates that at most 15 percent of its 600-plus members are black owners.
One of the hurdles for entrepreneurs is funding. As a former guide himself, Bill Given – wildlife biologist and founder of USA- and Tanzania-based tour operator
The Wild Source – was inspired to invest in camps owned and run by local guides. There are now three change-making outposts: Enaidura, Njozi Camp in the Serengeti of Tanzania and Bushman Plains in Botswana’s Okavango Delta.
Bushman Plains ( bushmanplains.com) with its four tents overlooking a flood plain stalked by leopards and wild dogs, is the country’s first camp majority-owned by Bushmen, the first people of Southern Africa. “The areas where Bushmen were living, where we were raised with my parents, have been taken,” guide Motswasele “Diesel” Tshosa says as we walk through a cluster of ebony trees, parched leaves crunching underfoot. “Safaris have not been benefiting us.” Deo Magoye, owner of The Wild Source Tanzania, opened Njozi Camp ( njozicamp.com) in late 2018.
The mobile camp oscillates between two Serengeti sites, trailing the great wildebeest herds as they follow the rains across the plains. The focus is big-cat research and guests are joined by young Tanzanian biologists-in-training. Guide Sosy Maira and his brother, biologist David, took me on safari around the northern Serengeti, switching easily from discussing the impact of tourism on cheetah hunts to the best Bongo Flava artists. Magoye plans to start a vocational college for kids around the Serengeti, too. “They can conserve this place,” he says.
As now, more than ever, we resolve to travel with purpose, consideration and a positive impact, when borders reopen, places like these camps – where the nightly rate is a direct contribution to local ownership – should be just the sort of stays we seek out.