“They’ve gone for a drive and will be back by 2pm for lunch”, was the calm, business-as-usual message that greeted me from Azei, our unflappable GM when I arrived at Angama Mara one Monday in September. “Yes, but how is it going? What do they think of the team? And the lodge? Are they enjoying themselves?”, I asked, peppering him with questions. “Oh yes”, he said, calmly as ever. “Very much so.”
It’s not unusual to clamour for feedback from in-house guests on arrival at the lodge, but this time I was especially anxious as the whole of South Camp was hosting an exclusive-use booking for a group of very special Kenyan guests, most of them first-time visitors to the Mara.
Roll back 10 days, and it was I who was the guest, as we sat together under a large acacia tree in southern Kenya. It was a hot and dusty day, the culmination of an 18-month long journey looking for new opportunities for Angama which had led me to this initial meeting with the representatives of the 844 family members who own the Kimana Sanctuary, a pocket-sized 5,700-acre wildlife-filled treasure just east of Amboseli National Park.
The community representatives, all elected office bearers of the group ranch that owns the land, were in support of the proposed arrangement that would see Angama sub-lease the Sanctuary from Big Life Foundation, the conservationists who had been charged with its protection, mostly because they trusted Richard Bonham and his team at Big Life and if Big Life trusted Angama, then that was to be respected. But unsurprisingly, prior to the representatives granting their consent for such an arrangement, they wanted to get to know us a little better, to understand how we did things, how we engaged with our community in the Mara, how we cared for our staff, and to see and feel for themselves whether we could be trusted as long-term partners.
I’ve previously written about my love affair with Mount Kilimanjaro and the view of the world’s highest freestanding mountain from Kimana: mysterious, graceful, glorious. As it was important for us to start a long-term relationship off on the right footing — perhaps now you can understand why I was so anxious to hear what our guests thought about their time so far in the Mara.
Over the course of their stay, they quizzed the Angama team on how we did things, how we looked after guests and perhaps most importantly of all, spent time with Shadrack Seiyo, another wise Maasai mzee and Angama Mara’s ‘godfather’ and community liaison.
After a morning enjoying the company of the famous Mara lions, the community’s representatives set up for a long afternoon of deliberations on South Camp’s deck: reviewing the proposed arrangement, discussing what it meant and all the consequences; ensuring that everyone had an opportunity to have their voice heard, to share what was on their minds — and if they were in support of this partnership with Angama. Without rushing, steadily the discussions progressed, the moods ever lifting, and under the assured stewardship of Benson Leyian and Craig Millar, Big Life Foundation’s CEO and COO respectively, the wazee granted their consent, but not before resolving the very practical matter of ensuring that each representative was able to place their mark on the final document bearing witness to a new partnership, and a new era for their beloved Sanctuary.
What a sight it was to behold — the guest area awash in colour as each representative was adorned with an Angama shuka by a Maasai maiden, symbolic of the partnership, and the exciting times ahead.
*Wazee = elders in Swahili
Through a long-term agreement, Angama will bolster the conservation efforts of Big Life Foundation, and the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, securing the future of Kimana Sanctuary. This partnership will see Big Life retain its head lease with the 844 community landowners as well as its management responsibilities, while the sub-lease to Angama for tourism access to the Sanctuary will ensure a minimum funding commitment of over US$ 11 million over 25 years. The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust will continue its important support through funding for anti-poaching patrols along with financing for leases elsewhere in the corridor.
Filed under: Inside Angama
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