Behind The Green Interview

With Cottar's Safari's | Maasai Mara | Kenya

Behind The Green Interview

With Cottar's Safari's | Maasai Mara | Kenya

With misinformation and greenwashing rife in tourism, Behind The Green takes it back to BASICS. Back to storytelling and human connection. Hear from the visionaries and teams behind the world’s leading sustainable stays. As well as inspiring experts that help us to REIMAGINE, RESET, and REINVENT tourism.

Written by Rebecca Woolford

Overtourism or unbalanced tourism often sparks images of popular hotspots like Venice or Barcelona in our mind’s eyes. Not the wilderness of Africa. 

But uncontrolled, poorly managed growth is unsustainable anywhere, whether in a bustling city or a wildlife reserve. 

With overcrowding on African Safaris making headlines and viral online footage of wildlife being surrounded by trucks now altering our perception of this wilderness…

I’m here to share a different story. Because the stories we share matter. Stories shape the world.

Seeking a low-impact, authentic, eco-tourism safari business with a proven track record of conserving land for biodiversity and working in harmony with the local community was not going to be easy to find.

That was until I heard about Cottar’s Safaris…

Maasai Mara KenyaKin Travel – Jodee Debes Photography

Named ‘Africa’s most sustainable hotel’, a 5 generational family business, and a 100-year-old establishment, Cottar’s is a beacon of hope for the local community and wildlife of one of Africa’s greatest wilderness areas, the Masai Mara. 

I was smiling from ear to ear when I first heard that Douglas, Head of Guides at Cottar’s Safaris, and Peris, the 4Cs Manager were eager to share their story with me. So, here’s to the first-ever Behind the Green interview from one of Africa’s Greatest Wildlife Reserves. Enjoy!

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A picture of Peris and Douglas at Cottars Safaris in Kenya
Peris is on the left, and Douglas, the head of guides is on the right.

Thank you Peris and Douglas for your time and energy. It’s so good to be talking with you both.

Cottar’s safaris have a holistic approach which is based on a framework named the 4Cs. Conservation, community, commerce, and culture. For those who haven’t heard of the 4Cs, can you share why this approach is so integral and significant?

“Thank you for having us, Rebecca. Well, in every aspect of the business, we incorporate the 4Cs. Sustainability is a continuous journey. With no end date or destination.

This means we always have a plan in which we are working towards. This plan is reviewed every year and then we set objectives for the following year. There is also a 5-year longer-term plan, which is influenced by global trends and priorities. We have been using this framework since 2013.

I started working here about 18 years ago and I’ve seen a transformation in that time. One in which the community is now the champion of conservation.” Douglas

“We are one of a small group of properties around the world that are recognised as a global ecosphere member by the Long Run. This is where the 4Cs framework comes from. You can read more about it here. A key objective is to improve the lives of the local community. 70% of our team at Cottar’s Safaris are from the local community.” Peris

Tourism leakage or economic leakage hurts the very destinations people visit. We know tourism leakage deeply affects African countries like Kenya. How do you ensure the money generated reaches the right pockets at Cottar’s Safaris?

“Cottar’s is very unique, it’s a community conservancy. There is a conservation fee per bed night, which goes directly to the community. These funds go directly to community-led projects.

The local community decides where the funds generated go and which projects get support.

We have an impact report that shows what % of the money from each tourist reaches the community. Over $500,000 has been reinvested in locally run community projects so far.

It’s also worth sharing that we are located in a very fragile and sensitive area. With migrations of highly endangered species moving through here. The conservancy fee helps support the ongoing protection of these species.” Douglas

“I’ll just add that at Cottar’s we work with local, sustainable suppliers to ensure as much money as possible stays in the local community. This is another way to reduce tourism leakage.” Peris

Keen to learn about the solutions to over-tourism, and tourism leakage? Click here to gain access.

Cottar’s Safaris – Valorie Darling Photography

Cottar’s conservation work is inspiring and heartwarming. Poaching is often a subject talked about in relation to protecting the wildlife in the Maasai Mara, but I want to focus on something much less talked about. Fences. What can you tell us about this?

“Thank you for bringing this up Rebecca. It’s an important subject to talk about.

Fences cause issues for the natural migrations of wildlife and impact habitats more than one might think. The Olderekesi Conservancy where Cottar’s camp is situated is owned by the Maasai community and is the only conservancy in the Maasai Mara that has not been subdivided. We have zero fences here so animals don’t come across fences, but sadly this isn’t the same story everywhere.

We are sharing this message with other communities. People who put up fencing don’t see the true value of this land and the wildlife.” Peris

“Animals are entirely dependent on being able to roam freely to follow supplies of food and water in the region. They know no boundaries.

If wildlife sees a fence that wasn’t previously there they don’t know what to do and can attempt to jump the fence breaking necks and legs. This is leading to a decline in species population. We have removed fences, and structures, restoring natural processes.” Douglas

Can conservation work without community? Can people thrive without healthy ecosystems? Something I passionately share in my online masterclass is the interdependence between conservation and community. Can you share your insights on this?

“Conservation without community interest and engagement is dead.

We define the community in 2 ways. We have a staff community here at Cottar’s Safaris. We have the outside local community too. You could even extend that to the community of travel agents, operators, and partners just like Kiwano. All of which are aligned with our values and mission.

When we created a management plan for the conservancy, the team took time to listen to the local community. We looked from the inside out and the outside in.” Douglas

Behind the Green is powered by friends Weeva, a smart, online tool that is already transforming travel. I love how Weeva makes sustainability simple.

Cottar’s Safaris – Valorie Darling Photography

Not all African safaris are equal. Encountering wildlife with a respectful and knowledgeable guide is not always a given. It’s up to both travellers and travel agents to ask better questions before clicking to book. What does an authentic, ethical safari experience look like?

“Cottar’s Safaris is unlike many safaris. We don’t succumb to the pressure of rushing around to tick off the big 5, to get the perfect picture, often overcrowding wildlife. If we see a group of elephants we take time to teach guests about the elephants’ behaviour. We sit quietly, switch off the engine, and simply observe.

Guests leave in the knowledge that without the small species, the big 5 simply don’t exist. Our guests are encouraged to look at the smaller critters, learn about the plant diversity, and see the wildlands at a slower pace.

We’ve created other immersive activities which provide guests with insight beyond the game drives. Guests can join the only all-female ranger unit in the Maasai Mara and learn about their challenges.” Douglas

I would like to talk about Pack For A Purpose, an initiative I’ve known about for many years and encourage travel agents to share with their clients. Travel is about changing hearts and minds for the better. Not just for the travellers visiting these destinations but for the host communities.

“We are proud to be a part of this initiative. Being part of pack for a purpose means bringing kindness in your baggage. It’s about making room for something beyond your clothes and shoes.

If you come to Cottar’s Safaris you can bring important and critical suppliers to the community. This creates a really positive relationship between the guests and community.” Peris

“We do a community needs assessment every couple of months. To establish what is needed most. We really appreciate being part of such an impactful initiative.” Douglas.

What’s next for Cottar’s Safaris?

“We continue to be ambitious in expanding our impact activities. Despite being a leading sustainable safari experience, we are relooking at all our guest experiences, to further define the positive impact.

Conservation is of an incalculable value. We are looking ahead to the challenges ahead with climate change.” Douglas

“Following the pilot we continue to use Weeva, a sustainability digital tool that has already helped us to be more transparent and harness the power of data. We will continue to use this tool to help us to identify where to focus our efforts.” Peris

Thank you for taking the time and space to be here. The good news is you can discover more stories in the Behind the Green series below. Or grow your knowledge and understanding of sustainable travel here.

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