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Published on Thursday, May 22, 2008

New Responsible Tourism Award Announced For The Masai Mara

The Mara Conservancy, a not-for-profit conservation management company based in the Masai Mara, has launched a new Responsible Wildlife Tourism Award, aimed at encouraging tourism best-practice in Kenya. Sponsored by international wildlife charity and long-time friend of Kenya, the Born Free Foundation, the award is aimed at protecting Kenya-ªs wildlife from the potential negative impacts of increasing visitor numbers in the region.

The Masai Mara, famous for its stunning wildlife and magnificent animal migrations, was recently branded one of the modern wonders of the world. However, a surge in visitor numbers over recent years has raised concerns about the possible environmental impacts on this unique and fragile habitat.

This new Responsible Wildlife Tourism Award, which will be presented to the -¬Ë-Most Responsible Guide' based in the Mara Triangle, is just one of the innovative ways that the Mara Conservancy is addressing this important issue, with the overall aim of improving guiding standards in the Mara as a whole.

Brian Heath, Manager of the Mara Conservancy, said "This award will focus on recognising responsible wildlife viewing etiquette. Tourism is the mainstay of our economy, it protects our wildlife by bringing in vital resources. While we welcome visitors with open arms and wish to give them the best possible viewing experience, we also need to ensure that tourism causes minimal disturbance to the Mara ecosystem and Kenya-ªs wonderful wildlife heritage."

Tourism plays a significant role in Kenya-ªs economy, last year contributing approximately 25% of Kenya-ªs Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Wildlife tourism to Kenya-ªs numerous National Parks and Reserves represents a substantial part of this income -" as much as 70%, and employs up to 200,000 people.

The award will be judged by responsible tourism consultancy, Tribal Voice Communications, and the winner announced later in the year. The judging process will involve consultants sitting in on game drives as -¬Ë-Mystery Visitors-¬™ and assessing short-listed guides-¬™ performance versus a Responsible Wildlife Viewing Checklist developed by Tribal Voice Communications, in conjunction with the Born Free Foundation and the Travel Foundation.

Will Travers, CEO of the Born Free Foundation, who announced the award today, said: "I am delighted that Born Free are able to sponsor this important initiative. Kenya is the land of Born Free; for more than 4 decades we have maintained strong ties with this magical country, its people and its wildlife. Responsible practices must be the foundation stone for wildlife tourism in Kenya."

This Award is being launched on the same day as the $200 Million Photograph Initiative, organised by the British Business Association of Kenya. The event, during which CEOs from businesses across East Africa will have their photograph taken together in the world-famous Masai Mara, has been designed to demonstrate to the international community that Kenya is a safe and exciting place to travel to.

The winning guide will receive an all expenses paid safari guide training experience, at an internationally recognised centre of excellence for responsible tourism, in South Luangwa National Park, Zambia. The winner will shadow some of Africa's most responsible safari guides. Kenya Airways, the pride of Africa, which has also recognised the need for companies to get involved in responsible tourism initiatives, will be sponsoring flights for the winning guide.

Virginia McKenna, founder of the Born Free Foundation and star of the wildlife film classic Born Free, concluded; "the future of wild animals and wild places can only be assured if we all play our part. This responsible wildlife tourism award will help keep wildlife in the wild."

It is understood that current arrivals in Kenya are down approximately 90%.

Valere Tjolle

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