NAROK, Kenya — Hundreds of Kenyan Maasai herdsmen on Tuesday led their cattle deep into the east African country’s famous Masai Mara game reserve to protest what they said was the illegal seizure of 4,000 acres of the park.
Dressed in brightly colored traditional clothing, carrying clubs, spears and machetes, the Maasai drove hundreds of cattle six miles into the park and rallied at a campsite they said was built illegally.
“We will not allow Masai Mara to be taken by individuals. It is our heritage,” local leader Ketuyo Wotune said.
Protest organizer Ben ole Koissaba told Reuters that the 4,000 acres had been illegally allocated to a prominent Maasai family who planned to build luxury lodges.
“Rather than have a few people disinherit us, we shall take the initiative to share out the Mara amongst ourselves as bona fide owners of this national resource,” Koissaba said.
Pushed off land
The Maasai, marketed as iconic Kenya with travel brochures showing them in red wraps with spears, were pushed out of much of their original lands under colonial Britain and many resent any incursion on the reserves they were given in exchange.
The park is managed by local county council, while the land is mostly privately owned. It is against the law for cattle to graze in Kenya’s national game parks and reserves.
Kenya’s Masai Mara and the adjoining Serengeti National Park in Tanzania are best known for the spectacular annual wildebeest migration, and are home to lions, giraffes, zebras and cheetahs that have drawn generations of tourists to go on safari.
Thousands flock to the parks to watch as more than 500,000 snorting and grunting wildebeest cross the border.
Bewildered tourists at the camp watched from a distance as local leaders addressed the demonstrators, who were chanting and singing.
Kenya’s tourism trade, one of its biggest foreign exchange earners, saw its best performance in 15 years in 2004 after years of poor performance.
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