MERC, was founded in 1987 in Kenya by Meitamei Olol Dapash as a grassroots network of East African organizations represented by 150 Maasai community leaders. It was founded in the U.S. in 1994 as a sister organization to further the resourcing and other support of the Kenyan organization. Having operated out of Washington D.C. for many years, MERC US is currently located in Prescott, Arizona through its partnership with Prescott College. In 2014, MERC retained its acronym but changed its name from the Maasai Environmental Resource Coalition to Maasai Education, Research, and Conservation Institute, to reflect more than a decade of growing emphasis on accessing information and generating knowledge for the empowerment of the Maasai community.
During the past three decades of MERC’s existence it built a global network of support and emphasized projects such as these:
Since 1987, MERC helped return one hundred and forty-five thousand acres of stolen grazing lands to 92 Maasai families, stopped a four hundred acre golf course near the Maasai Mara Game preserve and opposed large-scale commercial projects including dams, agriculture and mining.
MERC established the Maasai Girls Education Fund in 2000 with Barbara Shaw. http://www.maasaigirlseducation.org
MERC has raised international awareness of the Maasai people and the wildlife of Maasailand. We have had articles published in the Washington Post, Seattle Times, Cultural Survival Quarterly, Humane Society of US News (USA), CARE For the World International News (England), Daily Nation (Kenya), and SATYA (USA). We have also given interviews to the BBC, Voice of America, and NPR (National Public Radio) International.
In 1997, MERC organized the first Pan-African Symposium of Non-Consumptive Approaches to Wildlife Conservation. The conference attracted representatives of indigenous peoples, governmental agencies, conservation groups, and policy experts from twelve African nations. Together, they developed a common position document to guide international conservation and opposed commercial use of wildlife and other natural resources. The Pan African Wildlife Conservation Network (PAWCONET) was established to represent the collective interests of Africa's environment and wildlife.
When the Kenya Wildlife Service proposed to legalize trophy hunting in Kenya in 1994, MERC launched a successful anti-hunting campaign to block the legislation.
In 1997, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITIES) permitted ivory trade in Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia, resulting in renewed poaching of elephants in East Africa. MERC organized a grassroots-level anti-poaching program in which Maasai villages monitored and reported poaching activities to authorities.
MERC founded wildlife clubs in 16 secondary schools in Maasailand, provided educational curriculum and materials, and sponsored field trips to wildlife preserves for over 200 Maasai children, who are tomorrow's managers of our wildlife.
A community-based ecotourism program was developed for controlled, authorized use of Maasailand in the vicinity of the Maasai Mara Game Reserve with two local tour companies that operate bush walks and safari camps among Maasai communities. Other projects will generate direct income from tourism through Maasai-controlled centers selling bead work and photographic rights, and creating appropriate cross-cultural encounters.
MERC was the first group to bring the values and concerns of the Maasai people to international conventions including the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, UN Convention on Biological Diversity, UN Working Group on Indigenous Peoples, and World Bank Technical Consultations for the Review of Operational Directives on Indigenous People.
MERC worked with the World Bank to suspend a WB funded project that would have funded thousands of acres of Maasailand which were considered to be “unpopulated” according to Kenyan population data.
MERC researched and released a report that gained international attention and led to the termination of an illegal poaching operation in Loliondo, TZ, that highlighted environmental and human rights abuses. Click HERE to read more.
MERC established a scholarship fund for Maasai children and built a structure to ensure that the scholarships are managed by a board of Maasai community members. Click HERE to read more.
MERC undertook the rehabilitation of the Erusiai Primary School which in 2008 won the “Most Improved School” award in Narok District. Click HERE to read more.
MERC has participated in a variety of ways and contexts for the conservation of the Mau Forest, traditional Maasailand, and prevention of deforestation that threatens the entire Mara ecosystem.
The Human/Wildlife Conflict Resolution Program in Amboseli is a partnership between MERC, Kenyan Wildlife Services, the Elephant Trust, the Olgulului-Olalarashi Group Ranch, formed to resolve conflicts between wildlife and communities around Amboseli National Park.
MERC has partnered with tourism industry representatives, Kenyan government, International NGOs, and Maasai communities to build and implement ethical community based ecotourism that supports equitable distribution of resources generated by tourism and conservation of land and wildlife. [links to: “Ngongu Narok”, “Award Winning Safari”, “Women’s Beading Cooperatives,” “Crisis and Opportunity in Maasailand” article, “
In the fall of 2007, Prescott College students Alan Whitehead and Kate Cabot taught a six month Field Guide training program to 10 Maasai students. Click HERE to read more.
Researched and reported on Maasai community complaints about a NGO sponsored safe house for Maasai girls in Narok. Click HERE to read more.