Interview From Basecamp Explorer Kenya
A few weeks ago, I had the honor of speaking with someone by phone from Basecamp Explorer Kenya. I’ve admired what they are doing from a great distance and was quite excited to hear more directly from them. If you are still trying to figure out what the point of ecotourism is, there is no better example. So, from one of the winners of National Geographic Traveller Magazine’s World’s 25 Best Eco Lodges and on EcoTripMatch.com, here is an interview with Basecamp Explorer:
Why did Basecamp Explorer Kenya begin?
Basecamp began so as to safeguard the Masai Mara ecosystem. Many years ago, Svein Wilhelmsen, a Norwegian financier, was on holiday in Kenya, when he met Chief Ole Taek, a Maasai elder. As they sat around an open fire under the savannah night sky, Ole Taek aired his worries about the future. Taek spoke of his worries of nature perishing faster every year. The Masai Mara ecosystem was vanishing and that placed the Maasai and the Maasai way of life under threat. This conversation with Chief Ole Taek motivated Svein to find a sustainable solution to help the Maasai community.
Six months later, inspired by the old man’s words, Svein launched an adventure travel company known today as Basecamp Explorer. He founded a company with a mission to care for these indigenous people. One that would leave a positive footprint in the places they operate and on the local community. After a two year planning and set up period, Basecamp Masai Mara opened its doors in 1998. This paved the way for two other safari properties as well as an adventure camp in Masai Mara.
The Basecamp dream envisioned using responsible, low-impact tourism to do good, to safeguard wildlife and empower local people. Since the beginning, we have been committed to delivering something beyond incredible safari experiences; we are committed to leaving a positive footprint – both in the places where we operate and in the hearts and minds of our guests. At the basis of our concept lies the fundamental belief that the protection of the Mara Ecosystem can only succeed if the local communities are given fair substitutions to less sustainable alternatives such as agriculture. Through a long-term partnership with the Maasai people, Basecamp seeks to bring community empowerment and nature conservation to a new level.
How has Basecamp Explorer Kenya impacted wildlife conservation and local communities?
Basecamp Kenya works closely with the local Maasai community to provide sustainable development through capacity building for the local community, provide training and education opportunities that result in economic and social benefits for the local Masai community.
For instance, the Basecamp Maasai Brand (BMB), an economic empowerment community project benefitting over 130 local Maasai women who utilize their traditional handicraft skills and talents to create beaded items for sale. The women make beaded items with 75 percent of proceeds going to the creator of the item. Since we started working with the Maasai women an immediate impact was felt within the community. Today, these women have a source of financial independence, enabling them feed their families as well as provide school fees for their children, thus reducing the cycle of poverty and illiteracy within their families and communities.
Basecamp also supports a capacity building program through education sponsorship at Koiyaki Guiding School (KGS). KGS was established to educate the target Maasai students in hospitality (tourism) and other nature based enterprise courses, thereby providing employment opportunities, promoting and encouraging long-term conservation of the unique Masai Mara ecosystem. KGS takes a holistic approach to environmental conservation in the region through empowerment of the host communities to effectively manage peaceful co-existence with the wildlife and nature at large.
The Basecamp afforestation project was established to revive the Talek river ecosystem by addressing the pressing issue of deforestation and ground erosion. Since its establishment in the year 2000, over 80,000 indigenous trees have been planted.
By planting trees, Basecamp endeavors to counter the carbon footprint caused by visitors air travel. In 2015, Basecamp Kenya and Basecamp Spitsbergen collaborated and established a new forest area bordering the Basecamp tree plantation in Masai Mara. Gruve 3, an old coal mine in Spitsbergen was closed in 1996 and reopened in 2015 for visitors. To offset the already generated carbon dioxide Basecamp Kenya and Basecamp Spitsbergen opened up the mines for Visitors who would plant a tree for every visit. For every guest visiting Gruve 3, Basecamp offsets carbon footprints by planting one tree in the Masai Mara region in Kenya. The afforestation project helps guests visiting Basecamp to understand the importance of offsetting the carbon gas generated every day. To date more than 2,500 indigenous trees were planted in the new forest area and up to 6,000 trees will be planted in 2017.
The Basecamp afforestation initiative has successfully established the only typical forest along the Talek River which now serves as a home to over 286 identified bird species and other small animals. This has helped improve the climatic conditions in the region in Kenya. The Talek area where the Basecamp afforestation initiative takes place has experienced an increase in rainfall over the years.
Basecamp Explorer was instrumental in the formation of an innovative and effective community partnership with over 500 Maasai landowners. This partnership formulated Mara Naboisho Conservancy which serves as a source of livelihood for the local Maasai community through revenue generated as lease fees and ensures the sustainability of the Mara Serengeti ecosystem. Mara Naboisho has successfully integrated tourism with traditional Masai practices providing employment opportunities and a secure source of income for over 500 families with further indirect benefits to approximately 10,000 local people.
What do you offer tourists that is unique?
Our camps are located in areas renowned for their incomparable wildlife and exceptional views. In addition, at Basecamp, we offer the full range of safari activities as well as a selection of signature activities, carefully developed in partnership with our Maasai guides – the true specialists. Our activities include authentic cultural interaction with the local Maasai community, guided walking safari as well as day and night game drives. Our aim is to provide the most authentic cultural and safari experience.
What are the challenges you face and how can people elsewhere help?
Our greatest challenge lies in safeguarding the Masai Mara ecosystem. Conserving the environment and protecting wildlife requires the participation of more than just the tourism partners and the Maasai community. We need more partners to contribute in protecting this pristine area by visiting and contributing towards its protection as well as speaking of its beauty and benefits. This will help safeguard the ecosystem for generations to come.
Anything else you would like to mention?
Basecamp Explorer was also instrumental in the formation of an innovative and effective community partnership with over 500 Maasai land owners. This partnership formulated Mara Naboisho Conservancy which serves as a source of livelihood for the local Maasai community through revenue generated as lease fees and ensures the sustainability of the Mara Serengeti ecosystem. Mara Naboisho has successfully integrated tourism with traditional Maasai practices providing employment opportunities and a secure source of income for about 500 families.
Basecamp is a family oriented organization and has great experience with hosting three-generation family groups. We also offer special arrangements for honey- moons and special occasions such as private dining under the stars.
Basecamp Explorer Properties on EcoTripMatch.com
Terry Lawson Dunn
For more on Basecamp Explorer, see 7 Intriguing Ecotourism Destinations: One for Each Continent