A Kenyan man  on the plains of the Mara Triangle in Kenya

The Safari Chronicles: Exploring Kenya's Conservation Odyssey

"Kenya's past, marked by exploitation, has given birth to a new era of conservation, and the lessons we have learned from our own experiences in the wild have reinforced our belief in the importance of protecting nature."

Exploring vast savannahs, friend of Passenger Elyssa Quinton embarked on a journey through the Mara Triangle in Kenya, meeting and learning from native communities and those who have dedicated their lives to animal conservation.

Recently back from her travels, Elyssa shares her second instalment for our Journal. Read on for tales of animal encounters, heartwarming stories of community connection and an insight into a new era of conservation.  

Written by Elyssa Quinton

Chapter 1: Embarking on a Journey of Discovery

In October of 2023, my partner and I embarked on an adventure I had only ever dreamt of. Our journey took us to the vast and mesmerising savannahs of Kenya, a place I chose to mark my milestone 30th birthday. However, our purpose extended beyond celebration, as we were also on a mission to explore the rich history of animal conservation in this remarkable land. 

A man and a woman holding conservation equipment in the Mara Triangle in Kenya
Adventure ready, I pretty much wore my Passenger Laura Fixed Waist shorts the whole trip. Super comfortable and durable, and adventure-ready! Photo: @pachamamafilm, shot on Minolta X-500 35mm film

Our adventure through Kenya's conservation history began with a sense of excitement, freedom, and wonder. The Mara Triangle welcomed us with a captivating tapestry of wildlife. Whichever direction we turned; we were greeted by the awe-inspiring sight of elephant herds leisurely traversing the land.

The air was alive with the harmonious symphony of lions, zebras, and an array of birds, filling the vast, serene spaces with their enchanting melodies. One of my most cherished moments was undoubtedly our picturesque lunch on the riverbank. Just under 10 meters away, a playful family of hippos indulged in the refreshing waters of the river, and crocodiles rested on the banks, creating an unforgettable backdrop.

Our overnight experience was equally captivating, as we nestled into our canvas tent. The soothing sounds of elephants grazing, so close that it felt as if they were merely a breath away, kept our hearts racing through the hours of the night.

Close up of giraffe print
The most magical print of a Masai giraffe. Photo: Thomas Silcock

Chapter 2: Uncovering Kenya's Colonial Past and the Birth of Conservation

As we delved into Kenya's colonial history, we couldn't help but reflect on our recent encounters with both wild animals and the inspiring individuals we met who are deeply involved in conservation efforts. The experiences in the Mara Triangle, whether it was sharing lunch by the river with hippos nearby or witnessing the majestic elephants in their natural habitat, underscored the immediate necessity for conservation and how important it is for education. 

The British colonization had once posed a grave threat to these magnificent creatures and their habitats. However, it was during this very colonial era that the seeds of modern conservation were sown, eventually leading to the establishment of Nairobi National Park in 1946.

A Toyota Land Cruiser parked up beneath some trees in Kenya
Our trusty steed for the entirety of the trip. Land cruisers are always a car of choice. Photo: @pachamamafilm, shot on Minolta X-500 35mm film

Chapter 3: The Heartwarming Connection with Native Communities

Our interactions with the Maasai and their deep reverence for wildlife took on new meaning. We witnessed first-hand their harmonious coexistence with nature, which has been integral to Kenya's conservation journey. 

Maasai warriors, renowned for their distinctive red Shuka blankets and beaded jewellery, undergo a remarkable journey of transformation within their culture. In Maasai society, young boys evolve into warriors through a series of rituals that mark their coming of age. 

These rites of passage involve facing challenges and responsibilities that shape their roles as protectors and providers for their families and communities. It's during this transition that they inherit the Maasai code of honour and learn to defend their people and livestock.

A Maasai tribesman showing a film crew around his home
A Maasai tribesman, Jacob, showing us around his home. Photo: @pachamamafilm
A woman holding a film camera after filming Maasai tribespeople in Kenya
Exhausted after a day filming with the Maasai tribes. Photo: @pachamamafilm

The Maasai women are also well-known for their unique and practical way of constructing their homes, known as "Manyattas." These traditional dwellings, owned by the ladies, are made from locally sourced materials, such as sticks, cow dung, and thatch. The construction process involves weaving and intertwining branches to create a circular framework, which is then plastered with a mixture of cow dung and mud. 

The manyattas are designed to be easily disassembled and reassembled, allowing the Maasai to adapt to the nomadic lifestyle necessitated by their constant search for fresh grazing lands for their cattle. This sustainable approach to housing reflects the Maasai's deep connection to the environment and their ability to harmoniously coexist with it. 

A smiling Maasai woman holding a young child
A beautiful Maasai woman, showing me her beadwork and gifts. Photo: Elyssa Quinton

Chapter 4: The Torchbearers of Conservation

We carried with us the memories of our time in the Mara Triangle and the animal encounters as we met Kenya's contemporary conservation leaders. Their enthusiasm and innovative approaches were infectious, and it was clear that they were dedicated to ensuring that future generations could experience the same wonder and awe we had experienced in the wild.

"The Maasai culture and our wildlife encounters had reinforced our belief in the urgency of their mission."

A Maasai tribesman at dusk looking out over the plains of the Mara Triangle in Kenya
Tatu, our friend and local spotter who has spent his life on the plains of the Mara. From a Maasai warrior to wildlife spotter, he is truly at one with his environment. Photo: @pachamamafilm, shot on Minolta X-500 35mm film

Chapter 5: National Parks - Safeguarding Kenya's Treasures

Our journey through national parks, such as Amboseli, Meri and The Mara Triangle was rich in adventure, adrenaline, and intrepidness. You never knew what wildlife you would bump into; a favourite of mine was encountering a bird species I had never seen before, a Saddle Billed Stork. 

All these parks were not just abstract concepts but tangible sanctuaries for wildlife. We marvelled at the diverse landscapes and were grateful for the protection they provided to the animals we had encountered.  

A Saddle Billed Stork
My first sighting of a Saddle Billed Stork at dusk. Photo: Elyssa Quinton 

Chapter 6: Triumph Over Poaching – A Defining Moment

The ban on poaching and the symbolic burning of ivory and rhino horn in 1989 had become a powerful moment for us to remember. The incredible elephant encounters during our journey, coupled with our understanding of Kenya's conservation history, made us appreciate the significance of this decision. 

"Kenya's success in reducing poaching was not just a distant victory but a personal reminder of what was at stake."

An elephant walking underneath a tree on the plains of the Mara Triangle in Kenya
A lone Elly. Photo: Elyssa Quinton

Chapter 8: Conclusion – A Journey Filled with Hope

As we conclude our journey, we are left with a profound sense of hope. The experiences in the Mara Triangle and other parks, the encounters with wild animals, and the insights into Kenya's conservation history have all come together to create a deeply personal and uplifting narrative.

Kenya's past, marked by exploitation, has given birth to a new era of conservation, and the lessons we have learned from our own experiences in the wild have reinforced our belief in the importance of protecting nature - for generations to keep enjoying. 

A pride of lions resting under a tree in the Mara Triangle in Kenya
A lion pride we encountered in the Mara Triangle. Photo: @pachamamafilm, shot on Minolta X-500 35mm film

"Kenya's story is a beacon of hope, reminding us of the beauty and resilience of our natural world and the enduring spirit of those committed to its conservation."

A lioness rests under a tree in the Mara Triangle in Kenya
A peaceful lioness rests underneath a tree. Photo: @pachamamafilm, shot on Minolta X-500 35mm film
A woman smiling wearing a jumpsuit out on safari in Kenya
We spent a lot of time in the air on classic aeroplanes. This Passenger boiler suit came in very handy, with pockets for everything! Photo: @pachamamafilm

Elyssa Quinton is a seasoned diver, passionate marine scientist and skilled storyteller. Find out more about her work at elyssaquinton.com.

Missed Elyssa's first instalment for our Journal? Check out her tales from a summer spent roaming Canada's vast wilderness.

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