This summer the zoo launched its Maasai Journey, a presentation that highlighted the animals of East Africa. Part of Maasai Journey is the opportunity to meet and speak with four Maasai in person. Kibole, Kakuta, Kenneth and Sipoi are four Maasai hailing from a small, rural community in Maasailand in southern Kenya. The Maasai in their village, Merrueshi, are pastoralists, raising cattle for food. Because of this they live in very close proximity to African wildlife including giraffe, lions, zebra, hyenas and other animals that live on the savanna.
Kakuta Ole Hamisi, a junior elder at Merrueshi, has worked at the zoo the past six years, giving presentations about life in Maasailand, the challenges to his people and to the wildlife they share the land with. This summer, Kibole, Kenneth and Sipoi joined him at the zoo to give presentations that help paint a fuller picture of life in Kenya in a rural setting, which is mimicked in our African Village exhibit. The Maasai here are educators, speaking with zoo visitors and giving an accurate slice of life into their culture. Recently, a handful of academics have criticized the Maasai presence at the zoo, saying that having them here will lead people to "associate African people with animals and African Americans with animalism."
The zoo feels that this is misguided and incorrect; the conservation of wildlife and habitat is the duty of every culture and the Maasai are here to give their own interpretation, not a Western view. It is through the power of their experiences that can inspire our zoo visitors to care about wildlife and act to help preserve wildlife and habitat, whether in Africa or here at home. (Photo of Kenneth Sokoine Ntalamia by Ryan Hawk)