Justus has been a safari guide for almost 10 years - something he does with much passion, joy and knowledge. Justus is a Maasai, born and raised in a Maasai village in Kenya. Justus knows the Maasai Mara Reserve like the back of this hand; his tribe has been roaming this land for centuries. The Maasai Mara Reserve is the northern extension of the Serengeti Ecosystem. During the Great Wildebeest Migration, millions of wildebeest in the summer months migrate from the southern Serengeti ecosystem of Tanzania into the Maasai Mara of Kenya in search of food and greener pastures.
Many safari tour companies use Maasais as safari guides, because the Maasai people know the wildlife and the land so intrinsically. They are a noble and nomadic tribe that have been apart of the African landscape as far back as the 15th century. The Maasai people are most notable for their beautiful crimson robes and warrior lean, tall frames. Maasais have a holistic philosophy with their surrounding ecosystem... that people should live in balance with the life around them, by respecting it and protecting it. They do not believe in killing any of the animals around them for food. They survive on their cattle herds, which produces milk for their people. As Kenya turned more towards land conservation, many young Maasais like Justus have transitioned their skills to supporting the tourism industry.
I took my first Safari trip with Justus in the Maasai Mara Reserve over 7 days. I'm the very inquisitive type - so I bombarded Justus with questions about trees, birds and wildlife - and he seemed to surprise me each time by knowing almost all their names and the habits of the wildlife. And when he didn't know something - he just said so, but that seemed more of the exception. We didn't expect to find any endangered rhinos on our safari, but somehow we managed to find 1 of only 4 black critically endangered rhinos that was currently known to be roaming in the Mara - which is the size of Manhattan. Safari guides call each other when they spot wildlife so everyone can share in the experience. Though there were many safari vehicles watching this lonely black rhino on a hilltop from a far distance, it was only Justus that told us to wait, as the rhino would eventually make its way down the hill to the water source behind us. Sure enough, after all the other safari vehicles left, we were the last ones left, and then the black rhino came down from its hill and crossed right in front of us.
Justus has 4 children (infant to 7yrs) - Tinina, Kolian, Leshan, Topoika - who live about 30km away from the main entrance of the Maasai Mara Reserve. I met Topoika for the first time when we stopped by Justus' family dwelling to have a "bush picnic" before entering the Maasai Mara Reserve. We had packed some sandwiches and sat on a blanket in the midst of some very dry land, rocks and bushes. There did not seem to be anyone around for miles around. A very young teary eyed boy came rushing towards us - from the area where the Maasai Enkajis were - Enkajis are traditional Maasai dwellings made from mud and cow-dung. The little boy who looked around 4 or 5 years old, ran towards Justus and wrapped his arms around Justus' lean tall legs - crying in between utterings of some Maasai words. That's when we discovered that it was his eldest son, Topoika, who he sees only when he has safaris booked - about 1-2x per month - for about an hour when we stop for the "bush picnics" on the 7hour drive from Nairobi to the Maasai Mara Reserve.
It was one of these brief picnics that led me and others to launch the gofundme campaign for Justus to become an entrepreneur. Being an entrepreneur allows Justus to do what he loves and see his family regularly. After working for many years as a safari guide for other reputable organizations, Justus became an entrepreneur with the help of many of his former clients and friends. Now he runs his own safari business with the encouragement and marketing support from his friends and US counterparts. Zafarie's marketing and back-office support is based in San Francisco but Justus is one of the few independent safaris that is solely owned and operated by a Maasai.
If you do plan to book a safari tour with a large tour company, keep in mind that only about ~5% of your costs generally goes to the guide or about $10USD per day. Most guides from large tour companies are thrilled when they receive tips; that's why most will go out of their way to help you have an amazing safari. Most locals make about less than $10USD per day.
The biggest challenge for Maasais like Justus is not having investment capital to become an entrepreneur or business owner, let alone the experience or education necessary to be doing what Justus is able to do now. Many will save for years to get enough funds to buy a safari vehicle - which can cost upwards of tens of thousands of dollars, and then find that they have no marketing channels or sources of referrals for their business. Most do not have strong networks or connections to the hotel industry or travel agencies. So they have to rely heavily on social media and personal networks of friends and former clients that have booked safaris with them in the past.
What can we do to help Justus and other tribal communities? Well, we'd like to hear your ideas on how we can better tell and share these Maasai stories - please email or message us at https://www.facebook.com/zafarie.ke
And please share your safari or travel story to help others have a great adventure while preserving and sustaining the lands and community you've visited.
And for the record, the correct spelling of the noble Maasai tribe is with two a's. The misspelling of Maasai was a consequence of colonialism, hence the incorrect spelling of Maasai is pervasively reflected, even on Google Maps.