Since 2002, travellers visiting Kenya have relied on NICE Safaris to provide them with comprehensive authentic African experiences that are educational, engaging and enjoyable. Entirely owned and operated by indigenous Maasai, the business plays an integral part in ensuring that Kenya’s vibrant and ancient community is valued on the same level as its landscape and wildlife parks.
Vivian Silole Kaunga Malih, managing director and second daughter of one of the founders, explains that their business, at it’s heart, is one of relationship building and trust. Through an alternative pro-poor approach, navigating tourism through the poorer and rural communities, they have established sustainable relationships with those cultural hotspots. In turn, this has a repeatable positive impact on the local culture and addresses the imbalance between the rich and poor.
“Our community focused eco-tourism contributes to poverty alleviation,” she says. Adding, “We work locally to promote the use of available local resources and skills in an environmentally friendly way geared towards economic empowerment of the communities. Packing them in such a way that they don’t lose their attractiveness to the client.”
BEHIND THE SCENES.
Cultivating the resource of local skills, ingenuity and opportunities, NICE Safaris make use of locally owned and run accommodation. They support local initiatives such as nature conservation, environmental awareness, upliftment of women and schooling for children from poor households and marginalized communities.
“When we recognize, respect and promote the indigenous skills, knowledge and practices of these communities and promote cross-cultural experience,” Vivian says, “We elevate not only the lives and opportunities for the people of the area, but the value of the product to our international clients seeking a taste of a real Kenya.”
While the business vision may have broadened over the years as it has adapted to trend, it has never lost its core focus of addressing the negative impact of mass tourism that can exploit nature, culture and wildlife. The founders, Malih ole Kaunga and Lpesina Lemantaan who were both renowned and respected as indigenous Il-Laikipiak Maasai and Samburu Leaders, set up the business with the aim of improving the livelihoods and traditional economies of the Maasai and Sambura people. This focus has expanded as it has kept pace with local and international developments in the tourism industry, but at its core the mission has and will continue to be ever-present.
Legacy of community.
Malih Ole Kaunga is the only of the two founders remaining and is an indigenous Laikipia Maasai of the Il-Kisaruni Age set, Il Molelian Clan born in the vast, undulating terrains north of Mt. Kenya. A renowned advocate for the indigenous people in the area, he is also a talented social innovator, and entrepreneur. Deeply rooted in his community, he has dedicated over twenty years of his career to defending the land and human rights of pastoralists in Kenya and Africa.
Alongside NICE (Nature and Inter-Culture Expeditions) Safaris, he has founded several community focussed organisations, consults for the United Nations and other international and grassroots organisations, including universities and law firms. Most notably, his group OSILIGI (Organisation for Survival of II-Laikipiak Indigenous Group) won a key legal battle against the British Government in 2002 regarding injuries and deaths caused by army training and ammunition left over Kenya.
THE NATURAL WEALTH OF LAIKIPIA AND SAMBURU
Both Laikipia and Samburu, are livestock and wildlife eco-systems comprising of several conservancies and ranches owned by the community. These are the locations that NICE promote as part of their tour packages as a means of supporting ethno-eco-tourism ventures in Northern Kenya.
Vivian tells us that Laikipia has more endangered animals than anywhere else in East Africa and that several private ranches are now black rhino sanctuaries. Furthermore, the area has large herds of elephants, gangs of wild dogs and is also home to a few big cats.
“Unlike the Maasai Mara National Reserve, in Laikipia you can get out of a vehicle and walk,” she says, “Or enjoy a camel trek.”
The Annual Camel Caravan (https://www.impactkenya.org/camel-caravan) has run since 2013 and safeguards the Ewaso Ng’iro River, which is the largest river and main source of water for the pastoralists in the area.
Samburu is equally endowed with an abundance of rare species of animals unique to the area such as the Grevy Zebra, Somali Ostrich, Reticulated Giraffe, Gerenuk and the Beisa Oryx.
“These locations enable us to provide unique adventure programmes for our clients that offer something for everyone,” explains Vivian, “With so much available to be seen, our guests can be selective.”
And the list is expansive. There are the animal focussed tours, including the wildlife and birding safaris, camel treks and nature walks that are led by Maasai and Samburu Warriors. For those seeking more physically involved experiences, there are hiking and rock-climbing expeditions, led by highly professional local guides.
And, for those looking for a taste of cultural flavour there are cultural festivals, retreats, and encounters and even the opportunity to live among the indigenous Maasia/Samburu people to experience the feel of being a Samburu or Maasai. Perfect for those seeking an immersive feeling.
THE MODERN TAKE ON NICE SAFARIS
Since 2019, Vivian Silole Malih, with the guidance and support of her father, Malih Ole Kaunga, has managed the company. Following the grinding halt that 2020 brought to the industry, the business is picking up as international adventure travel finds its feet again. NICE Safaris, with a smaller but highly efficient team, are concentrating on using the increased love of story-sharing to their benefit.
“Our staff are all local professionals and we train them in community relations and ethics, cultural and traditional knowledge and story-telling,” Vivian reveals, “This fits well with the current trend we’ve noticed of travellers desiring to be more in touch with nature and people, learning and staying within the indigenous communities, rather than the mainstream wildlife safaris, where you look and point at distant animals, and stay in modern franchised hotels.”
With plans for rebranding, growth and more national and international tourism events planned, her father’s legacy appears to be in very capable hands, the future for this enterprising and important business doesn’t just look nice, it looks great.
ADDRESS: 499-10400, Nanyuki, Laikipia.
TELEPHONE NUMBER: +254717447606