Ferrari safaris tourism harms wildlife conservation on the Masai Mara reserve

They call it Ferrari safaris. It is chasing after wildlife on game reserves in Kenya to the detriment of the wildlife that they want to see and photograph. And this has come about partly because of the Covid-19 pandemic which closed borders and which are now open. And so, there is a stampede not of wildebeest but of human tourists to Kenya’s reserves to see their splendid wildlife. The Times reports that 140,000 visitors from the UK travelled to Kenya, many to see the annual great migration of millions of wildebeest, zebra and antelope. But they appear to have overdone things in their eagerness to see this spectacle.

Ferrari safari tourism gone mad
Ferrari safari tourism gone mad. Image: East African Jungle Safaris.

Tim Leperes, one of Kenya’s most sought-after guides, said:

“It’s where hell can break loose”.

He is referring to the jockeying of vehicles to get the best views typically during the months of June and July when the 1200-mile migration takes place between the Serengeti in Tanzania in the Masai Mara in Kenya. He has seen the jockeying of 4×4’s driving animals off course and forcing them into tightly packed herds.

He added:

“Vehicles block the crossing to get to the best spot, some tourists even get out of the vehicles to get better videos of this famous spectacle. What they end up seeing are animals suffering terrible deaths. It has become quite common for guests to offer inducements to guys to get them the Big Five – lions, leopards, elephants, buffalo and rhinoceroses – but it is up to guides to manage their clients’ expectations about what is a good experience, not the other way around.”

Conservationists are concerned about what they consider to be aggressive tourism. Kenya has reported an 83% increase in earnings from this kind of tourism in 2022. They are on track to double the $2.1 billion in income created through tourism in 2020. British travellers account for 1 in 10 of the 1.4 million tourists to the country last year.

As a consequence, Kenya has changed the rules on wildlife tourism safaris. In order to subdue the chaos occurring in previous events, they have included limits on the number of vehicles and the amount of time spent at sightings in their guidelines. And if guides place getting great photographs for their clients ahead of the rules and therefore the welfare of wildlife, they face the risk of incurring fines and bans.

Judy Kepher-Gona, the director of the Sustainable Travel and Tourism Agenda has been campaigning for a more orderly tourism industry in the Masai Mara reserve. She stresses that there needs to be education of guides and clients in order to foster more responsible safaris and to protect wildlife.

The jostling by tourists to get the best photographs and videos has become commonplace and damaged Kenya’s reputation. Comment: perhaps one issue here is nowadays everybody carries a top-quality camera and video camcorder because every smart phone of decent quality includes these devices. Everybody is a professional photographer nowadays and they have a camera at the ready. We see the results all over social media. Nothing is sacrosanct.

After Covid-19, the Masai Mara tourist camps “are full, the flights are full, we are not experiencing the quiet period. There is activity throughout the year and if there are no more highs or low seasons and it is just all rolling over, then we need to observe whether this means more distress for wildlife who are used to having periods of quiet and recovery.” Those are the words of Judy Kepher-Gona.

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