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With an enthusiasm and passion for wildlife that is as admirable as it is contagious, Angama Mara guide Alice Mantaine has been breaking traditional boundaries throughout her life, paving the way for future female guides in the Mara
I grew up on the outskirts of the Maasai Mara reserve. One morning while running the gauntlet to school, I came across a baby zebra struggling to free itself from a snare. I instinctively knew I had to help this creature. My siblings and friends laughed and called me crazy, continuing on their way. Eventually I managed to free the foal and was filled with pride, despite being late for school. This was a turning point for me; it sparked in me a passion for nature and I was knew it was a calling I would follow for the rest of my life. I joined the wildlife club at school and cherished our expeditions into the surrounding national parks.
After completing high school, I received sponsorship to attend guiding college, which opened up a whole new world to me. In the early days of my career I worked in the tourism industry, not in guiding, but in the reception office. Culturally, it was difficult in those days to find guiding work as a woman; it was thought to be a “man’s job” to drive vehicles. Luckily, perceptions have changed and over the years, female guides have found work thanks to progressive safari companies that pioneered training for female guides.
Sometimes, guests seem surprised to have a female guide. For me, it is a great opportunity to change perceptions and I love to watch as they realise that women are as capable as men. My favourite way of demonstrating this if I get the chance to change a punctured tyre. Part of my training was to practice tyre changing every morning, and it is now second nature to me – much to my guests’ delight and amazement.
While no two days are the same in a guide’s life, I am always up at 05h00 preparing for safari. This entails collecting picnic breakfasts from the kitchen and packing the cooler boxes. By 06h30 I meet with my guests and we discuss the birds and animals they’re hoping to see, and which areas of the Mara we’ll explore. Usually, we stop for breakfast with a view and then head back to the camp for a relaxing afternoon. Sometimes, guests choose to have breakfast in the camp and we head out into the reserve afterwards. Either way, we always manage to find interesting sightings, whether it’s migration season or not!
On returning to camp, I make sure the vehicle has been washed and is clean and tidy for the next day’s safari. I return the picnic baskets and fold all of the blankets. Often I spend the afternoon researching animals or answers to any questions my guests may have had. By the time the sun is ready to set I’ve arranged tickets for entry into the park the following day, and prepare to take guests down to the Sundowner Boma or Bush BBQ where they enjoy Maasai entertainment and a delicious dinner. It’s always interesting chatting to guests over dinner and finding out more about their different countries and cultures.
During migration season, we sometimes only return from our game drives in the evening. These days are long but we have enormous fun; I love watching the herds begin to navigate the river crossings. My favourite sighting was seeing a zebra bite a crocodile that was trying to take down its baby. That’s the wonder of nature: the small things teach us about life and I believe humans should look to nature for guidance on how to behave. Guiding is all about having fun and sharing our knowledge of the animals and environment around us. I find it hugely satisfying to watch guests fall in love with the Mara ecosystem that we are so lucky to call home; it makes my heart happy and makes me very proud to be Kenyan.
I come from a very large family – I have ten siblings. Together we have over 20 nieces and nephews. It is wonderful being a part of a big family within the Maasai culture. There are many aspects of our culture that I love; we entertain ourselves, obey the elders and settle issues making use of a talking stick during family gatherings. I have a daughter who is 10 years old. When she grows up she wants to be a doctor. I hope that by seeing her mum work hard in her career that she loves, she’ll realise that anything is possible.