Elephants in Maasailand

The purpose of the Research & Policy Development Program is to bring researchers and scholars together with Maasai community members, Narok political leadership, Non-governmental organizations, and any others who share the goal of generating and applying knowledge to support the future of Maasailand and Maasai culture.

The Maasai Mara Game Reserve is one of the most studied locations in the world, and the same can be said of the Maasai people. This interest is for good reason. Maasai people are known throughout the world for their culture based in pastoralism. That culture continues to survive as the community navigates pressures brought by colonial modernization. The Maasai have coexisted with East Africa’s magnificent wildlife for millennia. It is for this reason that scientists have noted that 65% of the wildlife that exists in Kenya can be found on Maasai grazing lands and not in the protected areas. The Maasai do not kill wildlife for food or sport unlike many other parts of East Africa. Their unique culture, its relationship to the land, its ability to survive in the midst of recurrent natural and human induced disasters, the abundance, diversity and prosperity of wildlife in their homeland, and the changing economic circumstances putting pressure on the people and the land, are some of the things that have attracted countless scientists and scholars from across the globe to Maasailand.

Our Research Model

MERC and our partners have developed a collaborative approach to research that benefits scholars and scientists, the Maasai community, the government, the wildlife and habitat in the Maasai Mara Serengeti Ecosystem, and the global community to whom this land ultimately belongs.

Here are the key problems our research model seeks to address:

  • Lack of Services for Researchers 
    Historically, scientists have lacked services and clear guidelines on how to conduct research in this region. With no operating field stations, researchers must find their own accommodations and transportation, and exist largely outside of the web of the Maasai community, locating translators and guides of varying quality on their own.
  • No Community Input and Accountability
    Local communities are typically alienated from research that they might contribute to and benefit from. There is no collaboration with community members, no reporting of research findings, and the lack of communication creates mistrust of research in the community, an assumption that knowledge is sought only for the use of outsiders and not for the people who share the land.
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  • Missed Opportunity
    Because research activities have been undertaken under very difficult circumstances and suffered from a lack of coordination, more often than not they have not benefited nature and the people of Maasailand.

The MERC research model is based at our field station, called the Dopoi Center, where researchers are welcome to pitch a tent, use internet, and share meals. The field station also offers the opportunity to connect researchers with Maasai people who have valuable information to share about the land and wildlife. As a Maasai community member Joseph Ole Logela said, “we know this wildlife; they live with us and we know where to find them, how to understand their behaviors because we have been observing and interacting with them for many generations.” MERC helps researchers make partnerships that empower indigenous knowledge systems.

In addition to the field station, MERC also has an established partnerships with representatives of local government and higher learning. Through our partnership with Prescott College, we continue to develop a model program of collaboration and to produce research that can be applied to solving problems in Maasailand.


Topics Addressed by MERC Research

Research by MERC scientists and researchers focuses on understanding ecosystem and social/cultural change in the context of the dynamic environment of the Maasai Mara Game Reserve (MMGR). MERC takes an interdisciplinary approach to large and complex research questions that address these discipline specific components:

  • Environmental Conservation
    Research projects coordinated to glean findings of long-term ecological monitoring studies, including research on big mammals, birds, marshes, soil, grazing and grasses recovery. The Mara River system is an area of particular concern, and cross-study collaboration are needed to assess the impact of tourism on the health of the Mara watershed. Another is the impact of grazing on the MMGR and Maasai community land, and cross-study collaborations on land management and private conservancies.

  • Tourism
    Research conducted on the impacts of off-road tourism, lodges and other tourist facility on the ecology of the Mara, wildlife and the economic, environmental and social health of local communities, on the carrying capacity of the Mara to support tourist facilites, the current state of employment in the industry and training opportunities for local people, and the fee structure of the MMGR and its relationship to revenue generated.

  • Pastoralism and Agriculture
    Research collected and conducted on the Impact of different economies on  soils, wildlife, and the economic sustainability, cultural survival and health of the Maasai communities in land surrounding the MMGR

  • Culture and Society
    Research collected and conducted into the cultural impacts of land loss in Maasailand, unemployment, the impact of education on society and culture, on gender and age group identity.

  • Education
    Research collected and conducted into the effectiveness of education system in Maasailand, the types of education most needed by the community, graduation rates from Primary and Secondary schools, underserved areas, and how education can be a means to cultural survival rather than an undermining force.

  • Land Rights and Management
    Research conducted into land sales, private conservancies, historical injustices regarding land, and past and present park management.

  • Climate Change
    Research used to study the impact of climate change on Mara River system and Serengetti ecosystem.

Be sure to check out our Publications Page to find some of the research papers already produced by MERC and some of our associates.

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