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Redefining the Luxury Safari Lodge

Masai dance

Sarah Gold

Most Kenyan and Tanzanian safari lodges enlist Masai—traditional pastoralists, but with a fierce hunting history—as game drivers, security guards, and after-dinner entertainers (their high-jumping dances are meant to display virility). But Shompole ascribes to a radically different business model. Here, 70 percent of the staff—including the chefs, the safari guides, the jeep mechanics, and the gardeners who grow the vegetables and herbs used in the kitchen—come from local Masai settlements. More remarkable, the tribe members aren’t just employees of Shompole: they have a 30 percent ownership stake in the property.

The unusual partnership was the brainchild of Shompole founder Anthony Russell, a Kenyan-born artist and conservationist who first visited the Nguruman Escarpment in 1999. Moved by the beauty of the landscape and troubled by the plight of the local Masai (who had been devastated by years of drought), Russell approached the elders of the local clans with a proposition to lease a parcel of the 140,000-odd acres under their tribal stewardship. With their grazing lands parched and their cattle herds dwindling, they quickly recognized the potential benefits of Russell’s vision: a cooperatively run lodge that could bring new visitors—and new wealth—to their valley, while allowing them to maintain their traditional way of life.

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