The owners of a piece of land that neighbours the Maasai Mara Game Reserve in Narok West have decided to plough it as part of protests against alleged mismanagement, posing threats for wildlife.
The group of at least 400 has accused the conservancy's land management committee of financial mismanagement and not involving them in decision making. It has also complained of poor pay.
Group spokesman Dennis ole Mako said they will therefore till the land, plant maize and wheat and put up electronic fences to block the animals' migratory corridor.
"We are no longer benefiting from the conservation of wildlife because of mismanagement of Naboisho and Mara North conservancies. We have decided to pull out," he said.
One Mr Jackson ole Sairowua said, "We don't have any problem with tourism partners in the conservancies but what is paid is not reaching the community. We are pulling out to seek alternative land use practices which will make us benefit from our land."
Should it persist, the dispute will affect 11 camps in the area.
The camps are Elephant Pepper, Kicheche, Offbeat Mara, Rekero Homes, Safaris Unlimited, Serian, Karen Blixen, Mara Plains, Offbeat Safaris, Royal Mara Safari and Saruni.
The conservancy has animals including the big five, gazelles, zebras and topis and is adjacent to the Mara River that separates it from Transmara's Olisukut Conservancy.
Wildebeests are occasionally seen crossing over.
The land owners' move comes a day after they drove hundreds of livestock to the conservation in protest against the committee.
On Saturday, the dispute degenerated into a fight between the locals and the conservancy's rangers, who had attempted to block a tractor ferrying building materials to Mara North where youths were building a cow pen.
Wielding clubs, the youths stormed the location where the rangers were holding the tractor.
The argument that ensued quickly generated into a physical fight during which a motorcycle belonging to the rangers was set ablaze.
Those injured were rushed to Aitong health center.
Mr Pariken Kererto, a land owner, said they differed with the Mara North and Naboisho conservancy management on several issues, among them the monthly fees paid to them.
Mr Kererto alleged lack of transparency in management of money obtained from tourism activities and also claimed the management of the two conservancies, initially by Seyia Limited, was changed without their involvement.
The simmering row was partly triggered by a decision to replace Seyia with Greater Mara Management Limited (GMM).
Seyia is headed by one Mr Brian Heath who has been managing the Mara Triangle for Mara Conservancy for 12 years.
GMM was created by members of the land owners' committee and is managed by a board of directors.
The board comprises representatives from the two founding conservancies, directors of umbrella bodies responsible for community-based conservancy development in the Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancy Associations (MMWCA) and the Kenya Wildlife Conservancy Association (KWCA) and an independent chair.
The Nation established that GMM's board is headed by people including Ms Kathleen Fitzgerald (independent chair), Mr Francis Nkoitoi (Mara North Conservancy - landowner rep), Mr John Sengeny (Naboisho - landowner rep) and Mr Riccardo Orizio (MNC tourist partner rep).
The others are Mr Gerard Beaton (Naboisho tourist partner rep), Mr Daniel Sopia (independent MMWCA rep) and Mr Dickson Kaelo from KWCA (independent rep).
Mr Mako said that since they were not involved when the managerial changes were being made, they resolved to pull out and take back their land.
He said that after they differed with the management committee in October 2018, they registered their own tourism outfit - Koyiaki Mara Land Holdings - a splinter group he said controls 40 per cent of the 60,000 acres that the two conservancies make up.
“The new management has also refused to increase land lease fees from the current Sh24,000 to Sh42,500 per share equivalent to 150 acres per month, and has been adamant to let members sign a five-year lease. Instead, they are forcing us to sign a 25-year lease,” the spokesman said.
He said the land owners want the lease process suspended until proper public participation is conducted to ensure all stakeholders agree.
In response to the claims, the land management committee's secretary, Dan ole Muli, said Seyia will not continue managing the conservancies as GMM sub-contracted it for a year.
“The contract will not be renewed," he told the Nation by phone, adding GMM was brought on board to help generate more money to pay the land owners.
Mr Ole Muli further noted that Seyia is a private, profit-making company that takes 35 per cent of the annual management revenue.
He also noted that GMM is not a profit-making organisation and only takes 20 per cent of the annual revenue.
“We started planning to change the management of the conservancies two years ago. We consulted land owners at the conservancy level until and decided to pick GMM. I am not sure why these land owners are complaining."
Narok, in a letter signed by county secretary Elizabeth Lolchoki, said in 2018 that the county was concerned about the effects the wrangling would have on wildlife. He said crimes such as poaching would increase if solutions were not found.
“We recommend that the status quo be maintained as the concerns, including the implementation of the conservancy management plan, are appropriately addressed,” he said.