Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust

Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust

Project background

Species of focus: 



Chyulu Hills, Amboseli Tsavo region - 12,000 acres across two conservancies.

Summary description: 

Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust (MWCT) was established in 2000 by the Maasai of Kuku Group Ranch as a grassroots conservation trust. The trust focuses on the Maasai landscape and the communities of Kenya’s Chyulu Hills, which are set within the Amboseli-Tsavo region of southern Kenya. The trust operates as a non-profit entity and aims to conserve the wildlife and cultural heritage of the region by focusing on initiatives that create sustainable economic benefits for the Maasai community, providing them with an alternative income source to intensive agriculture.

The partnership between the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust and the Maasai of Kuku Group Ranch is based around an ecolodge on Kuku Group Ranch land. The intention of the ecolodge is to create a tourism revenue stream that benefits the local community. The ecolodge, Campi ya Kanzi, was completed in 1998 and opened for business the same year.

MWCT has developed a conservation programme the cornerstone of which is the trust's negotiation of lease payments for conservancy zones. To date, the group has negotiated and secured two such management deals to protect a grassland habitat reserve and a critical wetland, totalling 12,000 acres, both of which lie within the migration corridor between the two national parks (Amboseli and Tsavo West National Parks). These deals allow the community to be compensated for their stewardship of the local ecosystem, funding the creation of alternative livelihood options, which has been important in a cattle-dependent local economy that increasingly suffers from the impacts of prolonged droughts.

MCWT's conservation programme also supports predator monitoring and the use of community wildlife rangers. Over 100 Maasai community members are employed by the trust as game guards and predator monitors. The comprehensive program – carried out in partnership with KWS – aims to prevent illegal activities (in particular poaching), to minimize human-wildlife conflict, and to monitor biodiversity in the region.

Another important dimension of MCWT's efforts is the initiative, Wildlife Pays, which financially compensates herders who lose livestock to wildlife predation in exchange for their full participation in wildlife protection activities. The program was started as a way of reducing retribution killing of wildlife and of bringing herders more fully into the fold of conservation efforts. In addition to financing other actions that help to mitigate human-wildlife conflicts – such as the construction of lion-proof livestock enclosures – the Wildlife Pays program is working to generate a more positive attitude among the Maasai towards wildlife conservation. The program is self-sufficient and does not rely on philanthropic funding. Surcharges levied on tourists visiting the area to see wildlife more than cover the annual costs of compensation, establishing a pioneering and sustainable new payment for ecosystem services model around the protection of wildlife.

Land management type: 

Communally managed land

Product(s) in trade: 

Types of poachers: 

Project implementation

Is the project implemented by an external party? 


Implementing organisation: 

Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust - established in 2000 by the Maasai of Kuku Group Ranch as a grassroots conservation trust. Although MWCT was not formally established until 2000, its story began in 1996, when Italian conservationist Mr. Luca Belpietro and his wife Ms. Antonella Bonomi formed a partnership with the Maasai community of Kuku Group Ranch. The partnership was based around construction of an ecolodge on Kuku Group Ranch land, Campi ya Kanzi. An innovative governance arrangement and strategic partnership has been central to the stability of the trust since its creation in 2000. MWCT is governed by a 13-member Board of Trustees, which includes ten Kenyans, including representatives of the local Maasai community, and three international members (from Italy, Spain and USA respectively). A Development Committee, appointed by the community, consists of six Maasai men and four Maasai women and advises the Board on the most pressing needs of the community.

Name of funding organisation(s): 

MWCT’s US-based partner affiliate, Maasai Wilderness Conservation Fund (MWCF) is a registered 501c3 non-profit, tax-exempt organization. MWCF raises funds from US donors which it grants to MWCT based on jointly approved budgets. MWCT has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Kenya Wildlife Service, the government entity responsible for wildlife in Kenya. KWS supports MWCT wildlife security operations and has approved the trust training program for conservation scouts. Currently, the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust is exploring new and additional options for financing ongoing conservation efforts in an attempt to reduce reliance on philanthropic funding, which to date has supported much of the work of the trust.

Community organisation(s) involved: 

Not specified.

Was the project established specifically to engage communities in combatting IWT? 

Partly (one of a number of objectives)

Year the IWT project or component started 


Project status is currently: 

Community engagement

Approach taken to community engagement and its rationale: 

Community members are employed as game guards
Community members benefit from tourism as a conservation incentive
Community members are provided with livelihood alternatives in lieu of wildlife use
Human wildlife conflict addressed as a way to decrease incentive for revenge killing of wildlife
Community members benefit from development projects (e.g. infrastructure development such as health or education facilities) as a conservation incentive
Community members receive payments for conservation performance/services


  • The community benefits from lease payments for conservancy zones which fund the creation of alternative income generating opportunities.
  • Through the 'Wildlife Pays' Programme herders receive quarterly payments for the value of any livestock losses.
  • An employment agreement reached with the ecolodge and Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust means that 95 % of lodge staff are sourced from the local community. The MWCT also supports a number of conservation activities and maintains a conservation department that employs more than 100 local Maasai people (including as wildlife rangers).

MWCT activities have additionally softened the financial blow of drought-related cattle losses, which have been on the rise in recent years.


Ecotourism revenue funds community health and education programmes, including scholarships, teacher salaries and clean water. Revenues to the community have been substantial, currently approaching US$ 400,000 per year. Within its education program, the trust supports 20 local primary schools and one secondary school, serving a total of 7,000 students. MWCT is the single largest employer of teachers in the area. The trust's health program operates four local dispensaries in partnership with the Kenyan government, reaching about 8,000 people. It also funds outreach services – in the form of out patient care – to isolated regions that lack access to medical facilities. A new laboratory has been built to support early diagnosis of local health problems. The MWCT health program has developed a specific focus on maternal health, including baby clinics, pre-natal health advice, and educational campaigns on family planning. As a result, a significantly higher number of local women are able to give birth at a health clinic, under medical supervision.

The MWCT has also prioritised training and capacity building for a new generation of leaders within the Maasai community. Trainings provide Maasai employed by MWCT with new skills in sustainable natural resource management that complement local traditional knowledge.

The community engagement project is: 

Stand alone initiative

What “rules of engagement” for working with communities does the case study address? 

Build the capacity of local people to manage and benefit from wildlife
Include local people in wildlife monitoring and enforcement networks
Acknowledge and address costs to communities from living alongside wildlife

What has been the impact on poaching/IWT? 

Don’t know/Case study/project has not assessed impact on poaching

What has been the impact on wildlife populations? 

Not known/not documented
Lessons learned about engaging communities

What worked about the community engagement approach and why? 

MWCT is demonstrating effective and creative solutions that protect local ecosystems and support a model for delivering long term benefits for rural communities. Strong community approval for MWCT benefit sharing arrangements represents a key social component of the initiative’s stability and long term sustainability.

Special emphasis has been placed by the trust on working to ensure the full and active engagement and participation of women in conservation and natural resource management activities. As one example, the first female community rangers were employed in 2011, which has engaged local women in the monitoring of wildlife. Additionally, four of the ten Advisory Board members are women from the Kuku Group Ranch community. This may not seem overly significant, but is relatively progressive achievement in the context of Maasai traditions.

What did not work and why? 

At the moment, MWCT is primarily funded through outside donors. The trust recognises the need to create a measure of financial independence and self-sufficiency and is taking steps to explore innovative funding options that would reduce its reliance on philanthropy. Despite this dependence, MWCT does not rely on any one source of funding, but has been able to develop a diverse portfolio of donor sources. The conservation levy charged to eco-lodge visitors has been a central source of self-generated revenue, and has been used to create employment and to fund conservation activities.

Case study information is up to date as of: 

Bibliographic information

Main source(s) of information: 

Published documentation


Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust, Kenya. (English Version)



Year of publication: 


Journal/Book/Series details: 

Equator Initiative Case Study Series.



Place published: 

New York, US.


Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust, Kenya. (Swahili Version)



Year of publication: 


Journal/Book/Series details: 

Equator Initiative Case Study Series.



Place published: 

New York, US
Case study entry information

This case study entry compiled by: 

Francesca Booker

Date of case study entry: 

Tuesday, 20 September, 2016