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Cottars Safaris, The Masai Mara

Getting nature positive preserves biodiversity in its natural environment.

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  • What we know
  • What we’re doing
  • What it’s worth
  • Testimonial

What we know

There are 250 lodges in a 6,000 km2 area of the Masai Mara ecosystem.

As little as 5% of tourist dollars earned in Kenya actually reaches private and communal landowners [source]. If landowners can earn a better living by converting their land to alternate uses they will, at the cost of biodiversity.

Currently, only 40 lodges outside the Masai Mara Nature Reserve have secured land using biodiversity easements, a method of sustaining conservation on pieces of land through a binding contract with landowners. Cottars Camp is one of these and we lease 7,000 acres from the 6,500 members on Olderkesi Group Ranch.


People watching elephant in wild
Giraffe over fence

70% of wildlife and biodiversity depends on private and communal landowners.

What we’re doing

We settled on biodiversity easement, because it directly funds poor rural landowners, helping to protect biodiversity, while at the same time helping them out of poverty with a regular income.

In Olderkesi, we saw the need for a holistic approach and contributed to the design of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) first line of defence theory of change and tested this model as a case study.

Cottars safari

The theory of change is based on four pathways:

1. Disincentivising illegal wildlife use or killing.
2. Incentivising biodiversity as land use.
3. Developing land-use plans to ‘harden’ the edges between people and wildlife.
4. Help the community move into towns; teaching them new ways to earn income.

What it’s worth

Keeping land open, traditional cultures and customs have a higher degree of success at being continued and conserved.

This theory of change model allows conservationists to engage with landowners on land use that is truly their own choice, but funding needs to be readily available to lease these critical wildlife corridors. 

The more land that is secured by conservancy leases, the less land is converted through unsustainable methods into illegal farmland or more lodges.


For the luxury nature-based tourism industry to survive into the future, we need to prove with science that the planet is better off if people fly on a long-haul safari rather than sitting at home. The only way to do this is to sell a safari with a carbon/biodiversity/poverty alleviation calculator. The only way such a calculator can work is if the airlines, agents and lodges come together and fund biodiversity easements. The Mara conservancies are a template for how this can be done.

Calvin Cottar Owner and founder

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