The traditionally pastoralist Maasai community of southern Kenya has long played a somewhat unique role in the country’s tourism and conservation sectors. Their centuries of proximity to and intergenerational knowledge of local wildlife has made them especially qualified to serve as guides and rangers in the southern Mara plain, while much of the land that makes up the conservancies and reserves where protected species are allowed to live in peace is leased by Maasai landholders.
But historically, not all members of the Maasai community have been allowed to partake equally in this proud vocation. Strict gender roles remain pervasive in Maasai life and while men often find jobs working as guides, guards, drivers and rangers at the hotels and reserves that dot their traditional homelands, Maasai women – who report some of the country’s highest rates of early marriage and female genital cutting – are more commonly restricted to tending livestock and raising children.
Not so for Agnes Kelero Mako. Having lost her father at a young age, she found herself without money to continue her studies and confronted by numerous proposals for an early marriage. So she decided to forge a different path: becoming one of the area’s few female nature guides.
Watching Kelero expertly maneuvering the manual transmission of a specially modified Land Cruiser across the rugged terrain of Narok County’s Naboisho Conservancy while keeping a keen eye on the horizon for wild game, you’d think she had been doing this job for decades.
But it didn’t always come so easily. “For a long time, it was really challenging, because the first day I was thinking that you have to use energy to drive,” Kelero recalls. “When I saw the big car, I was telling myself that I can’t drive this one. But I came to realize that you don’t have to use energy. Just use your knowledge.”
Agnes’ knowledge has brought her far, earning her certifications in wildlife management and a job at one of the conservancy’s most exclusive safari camps as a full-time driver and game guide.
And while the sight of a woman driving a car on her own may still attract scandalized and disapproving looks when she pulls up to the area’s open-air market, she is proud to be able to support her widowed mother and siblings, and remains confident that her experience can serve as a role model to others.
See more of Agnes’ story in the video above.