Pashiet works for the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust, founded by Luca Belpietro, an Italian who gave up a career in financial consultancy to move here, and who is, like Pashiet, a hunter-turned-gamekeeper. Brought up in Lombardy, from the age of 10 Luca accompanied his father on African hunting expeditions. He still keeps a framed photograph of Belpietro senior, rifle in hand, sat astride a majestically tusked, decidedly dead, elephant.
Luca and Pashiet met some 20 years ago when the Italian, now a naturalised Kenyan, embarked on a project to build a luxury safari camp in the middle of the Kuku Group Ranch, a 280,000-acre tract of land owned since Kenya’s independence by the Maasai who live there. Pashiet was one of the young warriors employed to dig the foundations.
After two years camping on site with no facilities beyond a pit latrine, Luca and his partner Antonella Bonomi opened Campi Ya Kanzi, a beautiful ecolodge where they now live and where tourists can stay in one of eight exquisitely appointed tented cottages. When you roll up the blinds in the morning it is to views of animals at the nearby watering hole and Kilimanjaro rising magnificently behind. The sole sounds at night are the chattering of birds and the occasional growling of lions. The camp is the only tourist lodge on the vast ranch, home to an estimated 17,000 Maasai (though you can drive all day and not meet any of them). For most of my stay, I am the only guest.
There are many luxury safari camps in Africa, and most make some kind of charitable contribution and nod towards helping the environment. Campi Ya Kanzi’s ethical credentials go way beyond that. It runs entirely off harvested rainwater and solar power, and though Luca funded its construction, the land and the lodge are owned by the Maasai community. Luca runs it as a commercial operation but pays $101 per guest per night to MWCT, a non-profit body whose diverse board ranges from Titus Naikuni, a Maasai who is former chief executive of Kenya Airways, to Edward Norton, the US actor.
The trust employs 265 people to run education, health and conservation programmes, but the camp’s $101 contributions specifically fund a scheme called Wildlife Pays, designed to discourage the hunting of lions. Dozens of Maasai are employed as rangers, known as “Simba Scouts”, who warn fellow Maasai when lions are in the vicinity so they can graze their cattle elsewhere. If cattle are killed, the owners are fully compensated. It is an example of what the environmental industry calls Payment for Ecosystem Services; another set up by the trust is a carbon-credit scheme, under which the Maasai will be paid to leave forests on the Chyulu Hills intact.
It is, says Pashiet, an odd thing for a Maasai to be paid for allowing lions to go about their slaughter. “At first, it was very hard to explain to people, don’t kill a lion,” he says. “If young warriors are told they can’t kill a lion, they are not very happy.” Still, he says, warriors get pride from their role as Simba Scouts and the programme is gaining traction. The number of lions speared has dropped to one or two a year and lion numbers have recovered.