Active in the safari business for almost a century, the Cottar family has a profound knowledge of Kenya, its people and wildlife. Located on the border of the Maasai Mara National Reserve, and just one kilometer from Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, the family and its award-winning Cottar’s 1920s Safari Camp and Bush Villa are intrinsically linked to the community and its natural surroundings. We discover how they are not merely providing guests with bespoke safari experiences, but are also making a significant contribution to the conservation of Kenya’s wildlife, cultures, and ecosystems.
In 1919, Charles Cottar, along with his three sons, established ‘Cottar’s Safari Service’, one of the very first registered safari companies organizing big game hunting and film safaris in Africa. This legacy has evolved and is carried on today by Calvin Cottar and his wife Louise with the foundation of Cottar’s 1920s Safari Camp in the mid 1990s. Set on a 6,000 acre private conservancy, it has 10 deluxe tents, all with ensuites, recreating the grand era of safaris.
In addition to the safari camp, they have added the exclusive Mara Bush Villa. Called ‘Cottar’s Bush Villa,’ it was designed by Calvin and Louise Cottar and constructed by hand using indigenous and eco-friendly building materials. Located in a secluded part of the camp with breathtaking view onto the savannah plains, guests can enjoy the same high standards and level of service the camp is known for within an absolute private setting.
The Bush Villa is the only real private luxury home in the whole game reserve. It is spread over 10,000 sq ft, and includes a large living room, dining room, a magnificent viewing deck, and five ensuite bedrooms, all with stunning views, modern amenities, solar power and a new 25m swimming pool. A dedicated game drive vehicle(s) and guide(s) are provided to guests throughout their stay.
Cottar’s distinguishes itself as much more than a safari camp. Calvin Cottar, pictured in the center of the group above, tells us more:
“Our vision is for Cottar’s 1920’s Safari Camp to be financially successful and sustainable for the next 100 years. By remaining true to the family tradition of providing an authentic and individualized safari experience and by ensuring a legacy of wilderness, wildlife, comfort and security and honouring a balance between conservation, prosperous commerce, community and culture.
“We believe that there can be a maintained balance between a successful business and sustainable conservation, social entrepreneurship, and community development. We are continually committed to maximising our positive and minimising our negative impacts. We are dedicated to environmentally conscious hospitality, sustainable conservation and the empowerment of local communities.”
A member of the Global Ecosphere Retreats, Cottar’s is dedicated to achieving long term sustainability through their own innovative method of wildlife conservation. This effectively promotes natural biodiversity so that it has a viable use to the thousands of local maasai, offering them an alternative to needing to cut it down to create fenced farms for their livelihood.
The camp remains accountable for all aspects of the business and strives to minimize any negative impacts and maximize the positive ones. To achieve this, the team has implemented monitoring procedures to record and reduce to a minimum, the camps use of energy, water, materials and emissions, with the aim of becoming net positive. They have also established the Cottar’s Wildlife Conservation Trust (CWCT) which supports the creation of a 6,000 acre Olderikesi Wildlife Conservancy pilot project on the boundary and key wildlife corridor of the Maasai Mara National Reserve and the Serengeti National Park. CWCT has been actively involved in the preservation of natural habitats and wildlife in the region as well as securing it from poachers and protecting the local community.
As a part of the camp’s commitment to the environment, they ensures that 95% of their inorganic waste is recycled and many of the ingredients which appear on guests’ plates comes straight from the camp’s organic garden. They go one step further by encouraging guests to take bush walks instead of vehicle game drives. This reduces fuel consumption in addition to offering a unique experience for guests to interact more closely with the area’s wildlife, flora and fauna.
The camp has no future without land for wildlife, or wildlife itself. The Maasai can have more revenue and cultural survivability with their land being kept open in this conservancy model Cottar’s has pioneered, than it being converted to farmland. As such, they have partnered with the Maasai community to manage their land on their behalf (for wildlife use) at rates competitive with other economic uses providing alternative livelihood opportunities.
Their connection to the local community goes far beyond this. They have always been committed to the Maasai people by providing them with income from leasing land for wildlife conservancies, employment and economic opportunities, microgrids and exposure to other development partners. The camp itself has a staff of over 90, 100% of which is Kenyan and 45% is from the local community.
The Maasai have so far been able to maintain their traditional way of life and Cottar’s offers a variety of experiences to ensure that guests don’t miss out on discovering this vibrant culture. These can include excursions to various Maasai villages, visiting markets with beadwork and other traditional handicrafts produced by Maasai women as an additional way of preserving Maasai culture and their Masai Warrior School where guests can learn about the Maasai culture, how to light a fire with sticks and make and shoot their own bow and arrows.
The team at Cottar’s assists with the well being and development of the local community via medical clinic visits (dental, ambulance transfers and other general services) run by volunteer groups and the promotion of education. It funded the building of the Olpalagilagi Primary School for a total of 200 students, paying teachers salaries and a school food program – a strong incentive to send children to school and keep them there.
They have also built a foot bridge with the Bridging the Gap Africa. The locals can now access social amenities which were previously accessible due to the difficulty in crossing the Sand River especially during floods. The bridge is now saving an average of six lives a year.
What can you do, even from afar?
Cottar’s Wildlife Conservation Trust accepts donations and even smaller amounts can make a difference. Here are some examples:
- The Olderikesi Conservancy: one hectare per year land sponsorship (toward the Conservancy for a wilderness corridor) would cost $50.
- Primary School Education: to enable a child to attend primary school for a year costs $250 including food, education, books and uniforms; one desk $80, one teacher’s salary $120 per month, construction of one class room costs $10,000.
- Provisions for Healthcare: they are trying to fund a mobile clinic at $55,000 and continue in the meantime to provide limited emergency medical assistance and interim free medical health days.
- Water: a water hand pump borehole would cost $30,000 and catchment dam for cattle and wildlife would cost $20,000.
- Conservation: one game scout ranger would cost $120 per month; and a 4WD vehicle for conservancy- community liaison would cost $25,000.
Alternatively, if you are vacationing directly at Cottar’s, they are proud members of Pack for a Purpose, an initiative that allows travelers to make a lasting impact in the community by packing some school or medical supplies. These generous gestures can make a big difference in the lives of our local children and families.
“Our hope is that people take with them a feeling of contentment and happiness in the knowledge that they have stayed somewhere that tries to balance what they ‘give and take’ of the earth’s resources,” says Calvin Cottar.
You can reach out to Cottar’s to enquire about availability at their Bush Villa or to make a donation to CWCT here.