Keeping the Faith: The Maasai Environmental Resource Coalition (MERC)
Father-Mother Earth, We pray thee at sunrise and sunset, that you may not abandon your sacred duty of sustaining our lives. The water that quenches our thirst, the air that we breathe, the trees that provide shade, and the animals that give us company, all make life real and creation complete. We the children of the Earth pray for wisdom, that we, in turn, may be good custodians of these precious gifts to us and our unborn generations. For if we fail to safeguard these resources, man’s moral standing as the most intelligent animal will be questionable. Furthermore, if we fail Nature, we shall have failed ourselves and the generations that follow. —Maasai prayer
The Maasai Environmental Resource Coalition [MERC] is a non-profit organization founded in Kenya in 1987 to stop the illegal appropriation and destruction of the Maasai people’s traditional lands. MERC applies traditional indigenous knowledge, education, and conservation biology to enhance understanding, trust, and cooperation among all parties involved in the conservation of wildlife in East Africa.
This approach to conservation management bridges the gap that has long existed between the indigenous communities, the governments of Kenya and Tanzania, conservation NGOs (non-governmental organizations), and the tourism industry on matters related to conservation, wildlife management, and economic development.
Maasailand in Kenya and Tanzania is one of the last great wildlife refuges in the world. The Maasai Mara-Serengeti ecosystem supports the highest concentration of wildlife on Earth. Encompassing the cross-border region of the Maasai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya and the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, this land is the native home of such noble animals as the lion, the elephant, the rhinoceros, the cheetah, the giraffe and the roan antelope.
Maasai territories provide a habitat for 80 percent of East Africa’s wildlife. For thousands of years, Maasailand has been a place of cultivated harmony between humans and nature. Today, the wildlife of Maasailand is threatened by poaching and habitat destruction.
Poaching and trophy hunting have claimed 92% of the rhinoceros and 70% of the elephant population. The region’s popularity as a tourist destination is growing, and large-scale tourist facilities are being built in pristine areas.
Habitat is also being lost to large-scale agriculture and commercial development. Population pressures from the surrounding regions of Eastern Africa are further distressing the land and its resources. Traditional migratory routes for wildlife are being lost, as indiscriminate development fragments Maasailand. All of these pressures, plus pollution associated with the tourism industry and illegal bush meat trade, are bearing instantaneous and irreversible impacts on the wildlife of the land.
Between 1978 and 1998, the Maasai lost over 1.5 million acres of land to development, tourist facilities, large-scale farming, and other interests. In particular, the rapid growth of the tourism industry in both Kenya and Tanzania has had a negative impact on the environment and the livelihood of the indigenous Maasai people. The uncontrolled development of modern tourist facilities threatens the ecosystems both within the wildlife reserves and in the adjacent communal Maasai grazing lands.
Our Guiding Vision
- Preserve the integrity of East African ecosystems, with their rich biodiversity of flora and fauna, for the benefit of these people, the nations of Kenya and Tanzania, and the present and future generations of the world.
- Ensure the survival of these people by preserving our cultural heritage, supporting sustainable socio-economic development within our communities, and protecting traditional land rights and political representation so that we can determine our own future on our own lands.
Become a link in our global family of individuals and organizations dedicated to preserving the Maasai culture and the great ecosystems of East Africa.
MERC is registered under section 501(c)(3) of the United States Charities Act.
Read more GoNOMAD stories about Kenya
- Iran: Visiting a Hot Nation in 2023 - June 8, 2023
- Dad Clothing and Footwear: Because You Care - June 5, 2023
- Florida Says: All Aboard Brightline! - June 1, 2023