Conservancy versus Balloons …


(Posted 11th October 2013)

An epic legal battle is shaping up between the Mara North Conservancy and Transworld Safaris’ balloon operations, according to information received from Nairobi, to determine who owns the skies over the Masai Mara. The High Court in Nairobi earlier this week issued an injunction, halting any flights by Transworld Balloons over the Mara North Conservancy, inspite of the operation being duly licensed by the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority, which for all intent and purpose controls the skies over Kenya, irrespective of where those skies are located.

The High Court reportedly also ordered the plaintiffs, the Mara North Conservancy, to deposit 3 million Kenya Shillings to have funds instantly available to compensate Transworld Safaris’ balloon operations, should the case fail to get a verdict in the plaintiff’s favour. Should the funds not be deposited with the court, will the injunction lapse and the status quo ante would be restored.

The case appears based on suggestions, that flights by balloons would endanger the lives of those living or being present on the ground below as well as on alleged complaints from tourists about the noise of the balloons’ burners.

The High Court has granted leave to the respondents to challenge the decision in a superior court as Transworld is reportedly seeking to have the injunction overturned to continue doing business while the case is being heard.

Tourism stakeholders have reacted by majority in condemning the Mara North Conservancy, claiming the entire issue is neither about the dangers to those on the ground nor the noise levels but simply an attempt to extract greater royalties from the balloon operators for any landing they are performing after a balloon flight inside the Mara North Conservancy, as according to the unison opinion of several usually well informed individuals ‘… they are not satisfied with the amount they are getting, have allegedly tried to negotiate higher royalties and when that failed launched a case in the High Court [the word frivolous was used more than once]. Balloon safaris are part of the tourism experience in the Mara and have been since Alan Root started his test flights and Keekorok became the first base for such flights. For us it is a question of the conservancy managers trying to use the court as a stick to beat the balloon operator to get what they want. The next thing they will claim that flights of tourists by light aircraft are also a danger to those on the ground and make too much noise. They are not serious and this case will do more damage to their reputation than good’ wrote another senior stakeholder when asked to comment on the legal battle. ‘If it were only on the principle of conservation or preventing the noise during that one hour maximum balloon ride, that would be one thing but from all I hear it is really about the money which renders their core claims void in my humble opinion’ wrote yet another source.

Added information provided also claims that a previous court order had in fact ruled that Transworld Safaris could continue to operate as long as they were paying 50 US Dollars per person carried in the balloon, when landing inside the Mara North Conservancy area which adjoins other conservancies and the main Masai Mara Game Reserve.

Which begs for the question to be asked, is it really all about the money as the majority of responses would suggest or are the sole two replies in defense of the Mara North Conservancy right which apparently believe a holier than thou attitude towards the purest conservation standards of no noise and nothing falling from the skies? But then, clients arriving by vehicle or aircraft, they also bring noise and pollution with them, so what now? Where does now sensibly start and where does one sensibly draw the line in the sand when it comes to conservation? Watch this space to follow this case as and when more news become available.


And then there came this … one or two points and fictitious, eh? … My sources were spot on when they predicted there would be an instant witchhunt once this goes out and so it appears to have happened. No wonder individuals prefer not to go on record under their name, which I assured them would never happen, following which one said ‘and it is all about the money and the control’ … oh well, have a look at the rant … I am not going to add anything more to it and wait what the court decides. Moving on swiftly swiftly now …


Following the above post, I would like to clarify one or two of the points you raise, on behalf of Mara North Conservancy.

Mara North Conservancy was established in 2009 as a non-profit operation: a partnership between its member camps and over 800 Maasai landowners. Our aim is to deliver a best practice, world-class conservancy with long-term commitments to the environment, wildlife and local communities.

The 12 member camps contribute over $1 million/year and, in so doing, ensure that local landowners benefit from a guaranteed stable revenue and fair financial management. The income generated is of vital importance to the community and is used to address some of their foremost development priorities – local health clinics, safe drinking water, improved education etc.

MNC seeks to maintain the ancient balance between wildlife and traditional pastoralism, as well as the pressures of mounting tourism in the Mara. We therefore have a huge responsibility to both wildlife and local people.

As custodians, MNC has the right to control what happens on its land – just as game drive vehicles from outside the conservancy are not free to rattle through this part of the Mara, neither do balloon companies have the divine right to operate wherever they wish. Consent is, of course, required and Transworld Safaris are effectively breaking the law.

There is a long history of Transworld irresponsibly, and often illegally, operating in MNC:

– Failure to recognise the conservancy for three years and refusing to pay any fees
– Taking off and landing in MNC without any Kenya Civil Aviation Authority license to do so in MNC
– Conducting bush breakfasts and game drives in MNC for balloon guests, as a trespasser, without paying any park fees
– Eventually charged guilty by the Kenyan courts for trespassing with a temporary order of injunction issued on the 9th October 2012 restraining Transworld from trespassing onto the 788 parcels of land leased to MNC and on 17th October 2012 Transworld was ordered by the courts to pay a nominal fee to MNC for every balloon take-off
– Continually breaking Kenya Civil Aviation Authority law by flying extremely low over camps in the early hours (disturbing sleeping guests), distressing the wildlife; causing horses to bolt etc
– Ignoring all requests not to fly directly over camps until 8th October 2013 when the High Court of Nakuru granted a temporary court injunction restraining Transworld from operating from the specified take-off and landing plots from which the wind takes them directly overhead MNC camps
– Continuing to fly extremely low directly over MNC camps even after the most recent temporary court injunction by moving operations to an immediately adjoining area, alongside that restrained by the recent court injunction

All of the above have resulted in upcoming court hearing.

We’d therefore like to point out that, firstly, the ‘tourism stakeholders’ and ‘well informed individuals’ you mention are entirely fictitious. Not one of the MNC stakeholders has been approached for their opinion.

Secondly, this is not about money – we have never tried to negotiate higher royalties and in fact blocked another application by a balloon operator wishing to use MNC.

MNC came about following many years of hard work by conservationists, responsible safari operators and local landowners alike. We are immensely proud of the cohesion that exists between our stakeholders, all of whom are united in their guardianship of this unique corner of the Mara.

We do not exhibit ‘a holier than thou attitude towards purist conservation’ we simply ask that all those that operate in, and enjoy, MNC contribute fairly and work in partnership with its stakeholders and wider community.

Kind regards,
Mara North Conservancy

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