WildlifeDirect & its initiative for the Maasai tribe

On a mission to empower the Maasai tribe to coexist with the wildlife. Photo courtesy: wildlifedirect.org

With our latest interview with Mumbai-based fashion designer Shriti Pratap, on her mission to make fashion more responsible, social and cruelty-free, she has been actively involved with two international organisations – Elephantasia from Fashion For Conservation and WildLifeDirect with the aim to prevent elephant poaching and in empowering the women of the Maasai community.

Founded in 2004, WildlifeDirect is a non-for profit organization that is working persistently with the Maasai community in the Imbirikani community. The organization has worked with the women in Amboseli Imbirikani area in a project called ‘Empowering Women living With Wildlife’.

The project was initiated in collaboration with UNDP and the office of The First Lady Margaret Kenyatta, with the aim to empower women in a patriarchal society and bring them forward in areas of leadership, entrepreneurship and conservation issues.

The Lifestyle Portal in conversation with David Mukaby Mukabane, Operations Assistant, Community for WildlifeDirect on their visions, dreams and hopes to take their initiative of elephant conservation and the Maasai tribe as a community.

“There is something incredibly special about African wildlife, especially elephants, they give us a greater sense of being, silent voices that touch our souls and speak into our hearts! We cannot imagine a world without them.” Photo credit: Wildlife photographer Chantelle Melzer

The significance of elephants and the Maasai tribe in Africa

Over the years, elephants and other wildlife have attracted tourists to the greater Amboseli ecosystem and the Maasai community. Culturally the Maasai regard the elephant as the greatest form of modesty and superiority. They live to aspire to be like elephants because culturally they believe that elephants are superior to the humans and have a great personality which is greater than that of humans. It is with this regard that the Maasai community has always lived in harmony with Elephants and wildlife at large. The Maasai community have always followed Elephants with their herd knowing very well that Elephants know where there is water and enough food.

The Elephants have also aided in clearing bushes and seed dispersal in the forests that allows the Maasai to acquire pastures for their livestock, firewood and even traditional medicine. The dwindling populations as a result of massive poaching of elephants because of their tusks has had a tremendous impact to the Elephant populations.

David Mukaby Mukabane, Operations Assistant, Community for WildlifeDirect

How does WildLifeDirect propose to promote their art in the world market?

“The Maasai community have exemplary skills in their beadwork. We look into value addition for their products. This is through improving their quality, designs and enhancing a brand that can be endorsed as high-end fashion. This can be sold through partnerships with already established brands either by direct partnerships or through white-labeling of the final product. The main aim of the model is to ensure that each woman benefits directly through the project. The Beadwork on Denim has attracted global markets and with a good marketing strategy, there can be much more sales. Like any other enterprise, we intend to make sales and generate profits for the women and for the other stakeholders,” explains David.

He further adds, “From the previous phases of the project, there has been a lot of learning going on and we seek to build up much more partnerships. Coming up with a brand working with international designers who are for the cause of conservation and can render their support for the women.”

What makes their artwork unique?

This is cultural and it symbolizes quite a lot of things in the Maasai Culture. The skill has been preserved and passed on through the generations. The skill involved in the beadwork is unique. This art has been perfected over time. Value addition in the designs has ensured that the products attract high-end markets. Fashion also changes with time and it is with this concept that the Maasai fashion has also evolved. The women aim to work with international fashion designers to perfect their apparel and even get into the production line that will attract markets internationally. The other unique feature about this beadwork is that the materials used for the beadwork are locally sources most from the waste material other than the glass beads. It is quite important to consider the raw materials used as a result of less impact to the environment by using biodegradables or reusing of materials that cannot degrade.

Working closely with the Maasai tribe in Africa. Photo credit: WildLifeDirect

Challenges faced

The greatest challenge that faces the project and the women are the funds to steer the project towards the objectives for the project. It is a great challenge to start an establishment aiming to gain profits within a short time. Partnerships also that endorse the products made by the women.

David further adds, “A challenge of a workshop where the women can always come and work as a production center. Some partnerships have been established to ensure that space is provided. However, funds need to be mobilized so that a proper structure is put in place with proper production amenities that will ensure quality control and the production systems work adequately. This will ensure that everything that has been produced meets the required standards that befit the market.”

Finding a market for their products has also been a challenge which in the past has seen the women have lots of dead stock as a result of lack of markets for their high-end fashion products. This has seen the need for partners to secure orders for both retail and wholesale in their various markets. Securing orders with partners could be one way to ensure that there is a constant business for the women and this will ensure that they are empowered.

Working closely with the Maasai tribe in Africa. Photo credit: WildLifeDirect

The cause of elephant conservation and the Maasai tribe empowerment go hand in hand

The cause for elephant conservation goes hand in hand with empowering the communities living with wildlife. The Maasai community due to the cultural beliefs has placed elephants at a higher rank. They portray the elephant as a majestic animal. They find it spiritual and have always treated it with respect. For the same cause, conservation initiatives have increased profits through tourism. The Maasai community has set up aside huge tracks of land for the benefit of conservation.

Wildlife has been allowed a dispersal area on their communal land. The benefits that accrue from conservation initiatives such as hotel lodges go back to the community. This is one way that the community has given back to conservation. The benefits of conservation intend to spill over into changing lives of the local community.

How the Maasai tribe can live in harmony with the Maasai tribe. Photo courtesy: WildLifedirect.org

Main source of Maasai livelihood

The Maasai community is a pastoral community that keeps livestock. They value their cows, goats, sheep some have donkeys too. The more livestock you have the richer you are perceived. This has been a greater challenge with the climate change. There has been a prolonged drought that has adversely affected the livestock and the wildlife in the area. Grazing areas have been depleted off grass and watering holes have dried up. Such challenges have affected the Maasai livelihood into various changes. Some have started practicing farming, this is a new activity that was introduced by the intermarriages with other communities. Farming of tomatoes, onions, watermelons has taken shape with most Maasai either farming or leasing their land to farmers. This has been a new source of their livelihoods and apparently is sparking lots of conflicts between humans and wildlife.

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