In the heart of the former Sukenya Farm in northern Tanzania runs a half-mile-long creek lined by whistling and umbrella acacia trees. Long ago, Maasai cattle herders called the creek Enashiva, the Maasai word for happiness. Today, Thomson Safaris and Tanzania Conservation Ltd. (TCL) are working alongside the Maasai to conserve this vast wilderness of wooded savannah and open grassland covering 12,600 acres within the Serengeti ecosystem.
Judi Wineland and Rick Thomson, the husband-and-wife team who own Thomson and TCL, purchased the land in an open bidding process in 2006 when Tanzania Breweries Ltd. put the farm up for sale. They immediately saw its potential to be a model for community development, conservation, and responsible tourism. Following the lead of the Maasai, they called the land Enashiva Nature Refuge.
Since purchasing the property, TCL has met regularly with the village council of Soit Sambu, which represents all of the villages that directly border Enashiva. The council has officially voiced its support for Thomson Safaris and TCL and actively collaborates with them on Enashiva initiatives. Working closely with the council, TCL has already helped develop numerous local projects for the benefit of the community.
These projects have included drilling a borehole and water well on the property and establishing a controlled grazing program. TCL also provides ongoing support to several local schools and a women’s collaborative near the nature refuge. Future projects will include significant improvements to education and medical care, and increasing employment and entrepreneurship opportunities, especially among women.
TCL has hired and trained local people to work at Enashiva, and they have played a key role in the conservation efforts taking place there. Led by a Maasai project manager, Enashiva’s staff represents all three Maasai clans (Loita, Laitayiok, and Purko) as well as the area’s minority non-Maasai tribe, the Sonjo.
This dedicated staff has led explorations of the land for prestigious researchers, including noted Harvard paleontologist Dr. Farish Jenkins and Ken Pauley, former director of the Museum of Science Boston. The project manager has noted remarkable increases in wildlife numbers since TCL began managing the land. Rare species such as wild dog and bat-eared fox have been seen. There have also been important discoveries of endangered flora. For example, it’s now known that Enashiva supports one of the only remaining forests of pencil cedar in the country.
With the support of the community, the restoration of habitats and the steadily increasing populations of wildlife, Enashiva has proven to be an ideal destination for responsible, community-based tourism. Test groups of travelers who visited Enashiva during 2008 and 2009 had high praise for the experience, which offered authentic cultural exchanges with the Maasai and unique accessibility to wildlife and untouched landscapes. As TCL works toward its goal of creating a sustainable model for conservation and development, Enashiva will become a key destination in many of its itineraries.
Based on this encouraging early progress, TCL will move forward with plans to form a conservancy trust as an independent non-profit organization. The trust will have significant local representation in order to empower the community and ensure a shared vision for the management of Enashiva. Thomson and TCL will help support the trust through continuing responsible tourism efforts. Currently, every guest who stays at Enashiva pays a conservation fee. The goal is to have the trust fully formed in 2010.
Enashiva represents the culmination of nearly 30 years of Thomson’s commitment to Tanzania.