Basecamp Explorer manages unique safari accommodation camps in the Masai Mara and Mara Naboisho Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya. A global leader in sustainable tourism since its inception in 1998, Basecamp’s operations create community partnership development and long-term solutions for wildlife conservation while developing models for conserving nature and empowering the local community.
Leopard Hill in the heart of Mara Naboisho Conservancy is the newest camp in the collection. Four spacious deluxe tents and a family or honeymoon suite offer an almost 360-degree view of the surroundings and include a remote-control skylight over the beds, which provide an unhindered view of the African night sky. Also, in Mara Naboisho Conservancy, the collection includes Eagle View, which consists of nine spacious deluxe tents with en-suite bathrooms and a private terrace.
Bordering the Masai Mara National Reserve on the Talek River, Basecamp Masai Mara offers 17 tents, including two family tents. Basecamp Kenya camps have been designed to give travelers a taste of the different dimensions of being on safari, including exclusive wildlife safari experiences like night game drives, guided walking safaris, and authentic cultural interactions with the local Maasai people.
With direct flights to Kenya on Kenya Airways, it’s now becoming easier and more affordable for Americans to go on safari.
We talked to Svein Wilhelmsen, founder and chair of Basecamp Explorer Group, about the link between conservation and travel in Kenya.
What made you decide to start Basecamp Explorer?
Pure love for Africa and the passion that stems from that. People often talk about a life-changing moment, a moment in life when perspectives are changed, and futures are formed. In 1996, I was on holiday in Kenya, when I met Ole Taek, a Maasai elder. We talked late into the night sitting around an open fire under the savannah night sky. Ole Taek aired his worries about the future. He spoke of his worries of nature perishing faster every year. The local ecosystem was vanishing. And with that, their way of life would be under threat. Maasai tribes could not survive without nature around them. If you destroy the Maasai Mara, you destroy something that is irreplaceable.
A year later, inspired by the old man’s words, I launched an adventure travel company known today as Basecamp Explorer, a company with a mission to care for indigenous people; one that would leave a positive footprint in the places we operate and on the people whose homelands it would bring visitors to. Only two years later, in 1998, Basecamp Masai Mara opened. So, I would say that at the original core of what is now Basecamp Explorer Kenya was that personal relationship with Ole Taek, the Maasai elder, who educated me on the pressing need for long-term sustainable efforts to conserve wildlife populations in the Masai Mara region.
My passion for securing conservation land for wildlife has since grown in those 20 years past that small tract of land we used to open Basecamp Masai Mara. The next vision was to establish what is now called Mara Naboisho Conservancy– a 54,000-acre tract of land adjacent to the Masai Mara, which would serve as a community conservancy and allow wildlife populations to thrive and flourish. Mara Naboisho Conservancy opened in 2010, in collaboration with other tourism partners and the Masai landowners. Basecamp Explorer now operates four camps in Mara Naboisho Conservancy – Eagle View, Leopard Hill, Wilderness Camp, and a fly camp called Dorobo Mobile Camp.
Why is sustainability so important to you?
Because there is no alternative. Just look at the facts the scientists show us, of destruction – including biodiversity reduction. I see the devastating impact human encroachment, residential or commercial land development, industrialization, consumption of natural resources has on our wildlife populations.
Africa has lost at least half its wildlife population over the last generation, and 90–95% of its key species, such as elephants, rhinos, and lions, over the last hundred years. And the rate of wildlife depletion is accelerating – thus, the urgency to do something.
One smaller “wildlife oasis” stands out: the Masai Mara (Kenya) and Serengeti (Tanzania) ecosystem. This area contains only 1/1000 of Africa’s landmass but could be home to some 40% of the remaining larger mammals. These two national parks, which are joined together – with a country border that is not fenced – are thus indispensable.
How do you think Basecamp Explorer is different from other safari camps in Africa?
There are very many good ones! As a company, we don’t think of ourselves as competitors with other safari companies because we understand that to achieve large-scale change for the Masai Mara, for Kenya, or for African wildlife regions generally, we have to work alongside our competitors as wildlife guardian conservation partners.
Basecamp Explorer was the driving force behind the establishment of the Naboisho Conservancy, a community conservancy that was the result of a partnership with over 500 Masai local families, who offered us a lease – a privilege and opportunity – to utilize their rightly-owned property for tourism and wildlife conservation. We empower the local communities in the process and provide long-term income and revenue to them, which is critical for poverty alleviation in rural Kenya in and around the Mara wildlife ecosystem.
We believe that we cannot be successful in long-term wildlife conservation without the intentional collaboration with the Masai landowners and local communities. We simply cannot come in as outsiders and make decisions on land use without engaging the Masai, the local Kenyans in this region, to whom the land rightfully belongs.
Talk about changes you’ve made since the company was founded.
Since the company was founded, we have not just been working amongst ourselves as a singular tourism company but have teamed up with something called the Masai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association (where I have the honor to serve as a member). The MMWCA is an association of all the other community conservancies which operate around the Mara region. Mara Naboisho Conservancy is one of many member conservancies in the Mara region—16 conservancies at present and expanding— protecting more than 350 thousand acres. Naboisho’s management structure and success as a conservancy has become a model for other conservancies and wildlife areas in the region.
There are lots of lessons we can share and also learn from the other conservancies and tourism partners with regard to wildlife conservation management.
Also, we have grown the number of properties under our management, from our first camp, Basecamp Masai Mara, to additional camps in the Naboisho Conservancy—Eagle View, Leopard Hill, Wilderness Camp, and Dorobo Mobile Camp.
Talk about the demographic of the traveler who stays at Basecamp. Has the profile of the traveler going on safari in Africa changed over time?
Scandinavians and Americans are our two biggest traveling markets. We are also seeing more young professionals traveling now, say 25-years old and above, so I would say that perhaps some of our safari market has diversified a bit and includes now younger people. We are also seeing what we might call “Conscious Travelers” – people who want to experience the best of safaris AND contribute themselves AND learn from us. People are looking for a more transformational journey when they come to us, and we are delighted to see that because that’s exactly what our mission is.