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Wildland Donates $10,000 to Maasai Environmental Resource Coalition

07.21.2004 Seattle, WA > Wildland Adventures, a Seattle-based adventure travel company organizing safaris in Africa and ecotourism vacations worldwide, announces it is making a $10,000 donation to the Maasai Environmental Resource Coalition (MERC), a grassroots network of Maasai organizations advocating for the protection of traditional land rights of the Maasai people, and for conservation, management, and sustainable use of the great ecosystems of East Africa. ''The tourism industry frequently portrays the Maasai as a tourist attraction rather than a unique people who should be understood and treated with respect,'' notes Metamei Dapash, a native Maasai and the Executive Director of the Washington D.C. based USA headquarters of MERC. The organization has conducted a survey of tourism impacts across Maasailand. They concluded that many tour operators within the industry market culturally or environmentally sensitive tours that in reality often do more harm than good. ''While the tour operators profit from their practices, the Maasai and the wildlife that they protect -- the very essence of the tourists African experience -- rarely gain financially and are oftentimes harmed by contact with the tourists,'' says Mr. Dapash. A pastoral people who live in harmony within the rich natural world of Kenya and Tanzania, the Maasai culture preserves a unique and treasured way of life in East Africa. For centuries, they have acted as stewards of endangered African wildlife and the vast ecosystems upon which this world heritage of life depends. The wildlife of East Africa and its native cultures, particularly the Maasai, have attracted widespread international attention for decades. While this attention is well-deserved and leads to some benefits, MERC found that the rapid expansion of worldwide tourism over the past fifty years now poses major threats to both the fragile balance of life on the African continent and its indigenous cultures, particularly the Maasai. Because of their proximity to the internationally renowned parks of East Africa, the Maasai face increasing competition for water, land to graze their livestock, and other natural resources. Often this competition comes from the collective, unsustainable activities of tour operators and lodges that degrade natural ecosystems in and around protected areas. Maasai communities living next to tourist destinations completely lack basic educational facilities, healthcare, adequate water supplies, employment opportunities, and job training. ''Walking safaris, game drives and visits to native villages throughout Maasailand form the backbone of a large portion of the East African tourism experience including many of Africas most popular game parks such as Samburu, Maasai Mara and the Serengeti,'' states Kurt Kutay, President of Wildland Adventures and a founding board member of MERC USA and The International Ecotourism Society. ''Although there are a few select, community-based collaborative ecotourism programs with Maasai communities, the time is long overdue for reform of the East African tourism industry, including sharing some of the wealth with native people that tourism brings to the region.'' In conjunction with Wildland Adventures donation, the company has introduced the Maasailand Safari, a new community-based, sustainable tourism program that protects wildlife and helps the indigenous Maasai. The new tour program formed by MERC and Wildland Adventures is designed according to an established set Ecotourism Principles and Code of Conduct ratified by Maasai as a basis for safari tourism reform. These guidelines are aimed at increasing awareness of issues affecting the Maasai and developing a dialogue among public and private sectors of tourism, conservation, economic development and social services. ''Tourist awareness of environmental and cultural issues at any destination is a fundamental component of an effective ecotourism program,'' states Kutay. ''Our new Maasailand Safaris offer a way for tourists to combine wildlife viewing with opportunities to learn about conservation issues, and to experience Maasai culture in an atmosphere of mutual respect and enrichment for guests and hosts. By directly working at the grass-roots village level, our trips support community-based, income-generating ecotourism enterprises.'' Groups are invited to visit Maasai schools and learn about Maasai culture and village concerns by meeting with teachers and community elders. Traditional dance and music is presented. Guests have opportunities to purchase native bead work directly from the artist and to go on walks in the bush with Maasai warriors. Special arrangements are made to visit Jane Goodall Institutes Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary, and to go out in the field with a staff biologist of the Amboseli Elephant Research Project to learn about the ongoing 30-year study of the elephants by scientist Cynthia Moss. Unlike other companies advocating environmentally and socially responsible tourism in Africa, by working in collaboration with local Maasai at the village level through MERCs grassroots network, Wildland Adventures is offering a uniquely Maasai perspective. Trip participants are fully briefed on what to expect when visiting Maasai Enkang (home/village), proper etiquette in remote villages unfamiliar with western culture, and how to be a respectful guest. Every year, Wildland Adventures and MERC six small group departures of this trip as a model for environmentally and culturally sustainable tourism in East Africa. By working in partnership with local communities, a variety of social and environmental non-governmental organizations, the tourism industry and the governments of Kenya and Tanzania, these safaris will enhance the transfer of wealth to communities in remote areas through just compensation for Maasai participation, purchase of handicrafts, and a share of revenues collected from trip fees. ''By involving local communities in ecotours like this, and offering our travellers the opportunity to give something back, indigenous people can share in the economic benefits of tourism such as better health, education and overall living conditions. In this manner, they are in better control to minimize destructive social and environmental impacts of conventional safari tourism on their lands'' adds Mr. Kutay. ''Theres also a huge payoff for our guests as well. Taking sufficient time between game drives in national parks for intimate and authentic cross-cultural interactions in local communities often creates the most memorable and meaningful experiences of their African safari.'' Wildland Adventures offers scheduled small group departures of the Maasailand Safari and on request for private groups. A portion of the price includes financial contributions to local communities along the route and trip proceeds help support MERCs work to protect land rights and traditional culture in East Africa. ### Since its inception in 1986, ecotourism has been the cornerstone of Wildland Adventures, offering cultural and natural history explorations as a means to protect natural environments, preserve cultural heritage and enhance the well-being of local communities through initiatives by the companys non-profit Travelers Conservation Trust. Kurt Kutay is a founding member of the Board of Directors of The International Ecotourism Society and a recognized leader in the travel industry as a proponent of responsible tourism. Other destinations offered by Wildland Adventures include Costa Rica, Belize, the Andes and the Amazon, Patagonia, Alaska, the Galapagos, New Zealand and more. For reservations or more information about Wildland Adventures, call 1-800-345-4453, email info@wildland.com, write to 3516 NE 155th Street, Seattle, WA 98155 or visit www.wildland.com. To learn more about the Maasai Environmental Resource Coalition visit www.maasaierc.org.