A female nature guide defies community gender role in conservation, Kenya

The traditionally pastoralist Maasai community of southern Kenya has long played a somewhat unique role in the country’s tourism and conservation sectors.

Their centuries of proximity to and intergenerational knowledge of local wildlife has made them especially qualified to serve as guides and rangers in the southern Mara plain, while much of the land that makes up the conservancies and reserves where protected species are allowed to live in their natural habitat is leased by Maasai landholders.

But historically, not all members of the Maasai community have been allowed to partake equally in this unique vocation. Strict gender roles remain pervasive in Maasai anecdotal life and while men often find jobs working as guides, guards, drivers and rangers at the hotels and reserves that dot their traditional homelands, Maasai women – who report some of the country’s highest rates of early marriage and female genital mutilation are more commonly restricted to tending livestock and raising children.

Notwithstanding the odd entrenched in tradition, Agnes Kelero Mako, an ophan who lost her father at a young age, ventured into this male dominated trade. And putting aside lack of money to continue her education as well as the numerous proposals for an early marriage, Agnes choose to become one of the area’s few female nature guides.

Watching her expertly maneuvering the manual transmission of a specially modified Land Cruiser across the rugged terrain of Narok County’s Naboisho Conservancy while keeping a keen eye on the horizon for wild game, you’d think she had been doing this job for decades.

“For a long time, it was really challenging, because the first day I was thinking that you have to use energy to drive,” Agnes recalls. “When I saw the big car, I was telling myself that I can’t drive this one. But I came to realize that you don’t have to use energy. Just use your knowledge.”

Agnes’ knowledge has brought her far, earning her certifications in wildlife management and a job at one of the conservancy’s most exclusive safari camps as a full-time driver and game guide.

And while the sight of a woman driving a car on her own may still attract scandalized and disapproving looks when she pulls up to the area’s open-air market, she is proud to be able to support her widowed mother and siblings, and remains confident that her experience can serve as a role model to other female folks in the community.

 

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