The MaasaiThe MaasaiThe MaasaiThe MaasaiThe Maasai

The Maasai

The people that made Ngorongoro a very good place is us

The Maasai

Act now   Donate

The Maasai are undoubtedly among the best known Indigenous peoples worldwide and parts of their ancestral lands in Kenya and Tanzania – like the Serengeti or the Ngorongoro crater – are iconic landscapes.

But behind the travel magazines and Disney movies, there is a much more troubling story of land theft, evictions and violence. While governments, conservation organizations and tourism providers have gone to great lengths to hide these crimes, the Maasai are determined to resist.


How it began 

The Maasai (“people speaking the Maa language”) are semi-nomadic pastoralists, with a deep affection for their cattle. Some families share their homes with calves at night and cattle are also crucial for food, income and community life.

Having thrived for generations in what outsiders would consider a "hostile" environment, Maasai's wealth is based on their social values. A system of communal land tenure, in which everyone in an area shares access to water and pasture, allowed the Maasai to move with their herds across “Maasailand” and successfully adapt to variable rain patterns. However, colonization by the British and Germans, and the creation of game reserves and other Protected Areas, have evicted many Maasai communities and restricted their access to their land. 

And this land grab continues.


I was arrested twice. Once when I was working with women's groups to collect money, and they thought we were “mobilizing” women to talk about the situation we are facing.
Maasai woman, Tanzania

The Maasai in Tanzania today are battling against the government's renewed attempts to evict them from their land. More than 170,000 Maasai are at risk, or have already been evicted, to make way for trophy hunting, tourism and wildlife conservation in Loliondo and in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA).

"They are poisonous thorns in our flesh"

It is history repeating itself, but the Maasai are resisting. They have protested, organized and called upon courts and international allies like Survival for help. Their fight isn’t easy: Tanzanian authorities have responded with raids, shootings, the violent repression of protests, arbitrary arrests and the confiscation of cattle.

The government has denied that the Maasai are Indigenous people and it has prevented visits by independent investigators, members of the European Parliament and journalists. The authorities have cut health services, including for children and pregnant women, and other public services like schooling and access to drinking water. This is part of  their efforts to force Maasai to agree to so-called “voluntary relocations”. 


FZS, UNESCO, they go all around the world to talk about Ngorongoro, but they don’t invite us to speak. On the contrary, they say bad things about us.
Maasai man, Tanzania

The Tanzanian government is supported by big conservation organizations like the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS), Western governments and donor agencies, as well as international institutions like UNESCO.

They all claim that there are “too many” Maasai and cattle and that they are responsible for the destruction of the environment. The racist idea of overpopulation and overgrazing by Indigenous peoples has been deeply rooted in Western thinking since colonial times. It provides a justification for “relocations” and comes with resources and money to make them possible.

Studies attest to Indigenous peoples’ having the best skills in managing their lands and protecting the natural world. Research shows that pastoralism does not destroy the environment, but instead shapes and protects it. However, the Tanzanian government and Western conservationists partner up to restrict the Maasai’s land rights in the name of conserving wildlife. At the same time, they transform their lands into tourist attractions, which Maasai have described to Survival as a source of pollution, water scarcity and stress for their animals.

Frankfurt Zoological Society

Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) is a key conservation organization working on the Maasai’s ancestral land. Maasai have called FZS their “enemy number one”. Its involvement started with its long time director Bernhard Grzimek. Grzimek wasn’t just a eugenicist and member of the Nazi party in Hitler’s Germany, he was also a key advocate for removing the Maasai from their land. FZS still embraces his ideas, or as it says:  “Serengeti is not pasture land”. Learn more in this video.

Way forward

[The conservationists] let lodges inside the park. What they prohibited inside is not “humans” in general, but pastoralists. It would be much better for nature to allow grazing inside the park rather than the traffic of [tourist] cars you have now. But conservation brings income, while kicking us out is easy.
Maasai man, Tanzania

Survival amplified the voices of the Maasai so their eyewitness testimonies have been heard, exposed the reckless evictions in the international media, protested outside the offices of the conservation giant FZS and successfully lobbied for a ground-breaking resolution in the European parliament in support of the Maasai. 

It’s clear: The Maasai need their land in order to survive and live well – and they have a right to it. Help us campaign against the complicity of Western conservationists and donors in the evictions of the Maasai. This will also put pressure on the Tanzanian government. For the Maasai, for nature, for all humanity. 


Join the mailing list

More than one hundred and fifty million men, women and children in over sixty countries live in tribal societies. Find out more about them and the struggles they’re facing: sign up to our mailing list for occasional updates.

News from the Maasai