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Kenyan Maasai Mara Hit Hard Reserve by COVID-19

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Rebecca Blackwell/AP


An African Paradise in Peril

It appears that the effects of coronavirus know no bounds as even nature is being compromised. The Maasai Mara, located in the vast flat plains of the Great Rift Valley, is one of the most highly-rated game reserves on the African continent. But even this natural paradise has not been spared by the COVID-19 pandemic, and for the local community, whose livelihood depends on tourists visiting Kenya's abundant wildlife, the situation is dire.

With Europe, China and United Stated hit hard by coronavirus back in March, before Kenya itself had seen a significant number of domestic cases, many tourist reservations were cancelled in the wake of lockdown measures and travel restrictions abroad.

"We were fully booked in June but now we have zero bookings. Nothing. It's terrible," said Jimmy Lemara, 40, the manager of an eco-lodge in the private Ol Kinyei conservancy.

According to the Ministry of Tourism, the sector has lost $750 million this year -- roughly half of the total revenue in 2019.

Social distancing might just be challenging on the reserve

Many locals fear what will become of their community if the sector does not pick back up soon. But with the uncertainty of the coronavirus situation on the continent, some are choosing to hold on until things go back to business as usual.

"Since December, work has been extremely low, and now we're in survival mode hoping to make 150 to 200 shillings ($1.4 to $1.9) a day, to be able to buy a meal," said Ibrahim Sameri, 38, whose small mechanic workshop can generate up to $30 a day in the high season

A Resilient Community

The Maasai receive compensation for renting out their land as part of private wildlife conservancies. A unique economic model that encourages the preservation of the natural landscape through tourism. Some members of the community also provide culinary, safari guide, security and lodging services, while others sell homemade cultural artefacts or give tours of their homes to tourists showcasing the beautiful tradition and long, rich history of their people.

Kenya has announced international flights will resume on August 1, but the high season is already lost.

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