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Travel conglomerate Lindblad Expeditions acquires Thomson Safaris despite allegations against the US firm of land theft & abuses against the Maasai

May 28, 2024
Sukenya Farm


May 28, 2024; 11:00 AM PDT

Media Contact: Anuradha Mittal, [email protected]+1 510-469-5228

  • Adventure travel corporation, Lindblad Expeditions has acquired Thomson Safaris – the US-based luxury safari operator, which has faced allegations of land theft and human rights abuses by local Maasai communities in Tanzania.

  • The new owners have indicated plans to expand their offerings in Tanzania, overlooking legal challenges filed by communities for the return of their land and the government’s widespread abuses and forced mass evictions of the Maasai.

  • Sustainability and conservation claims of Lindblad and its subsidiary, Natural Habitat Adventures, are also called into question given their partnerships with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and South Pole – both embroiled in high-profile scandals in recent years.

Oakland, CA – On April 30, 2024, US-based luxury safari operator Wineland-Thomson Adventures, which runs Thomson Safaris in Tanzania, was acquired for approximately US$30 million by the adventure travel conglomerate Lindblad Expeditions. The acquisition came just weeks after the release of Capitalizing on Chaos, a report by the Oakland Institute that documents the ongoing resistance of Maasai communities to Thomson Safaris for alleged land theft and human rights abuses committed by the company’s agents in Tanzania. Announcing the deal, Sven-Olof Lindblad, CEO of Lindblad Expeditions, emphasized the importance of being “stewards of the Wineland-Thomson brands and honoring the legacy of its founders.”

“The legacy Lindblad will continue is one of dispossession, violence, and greed. For years, Maasai villagers have reported suffering at the hands of Thomson Safaris. Despite the well-known harms caused by safari-tourism in Tanzania, Lindblad now seeks to further profit from the industry,” said Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute. 

Since 2006, the Mondorosi, Sukenya, and Soitsambu villages have been ensnared in a prolonged struggle against the company for the return of 10,000 acres of their land. In several court filings, local communities have accused Thomson Safaris of using its agents to beat and repress them while preventing their access to lands critical for grazing cattle. This struggle takes place in a context where the Tanzanian government announced a devastating new plan in January to forcibly evict 100,000 Maasai from the nearby Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Across the country, Tanzanian paramilitary wildlife rangers are responsible for killings, murders, torture, as well as massive cattle seizures to pressure the Maasai and other Indigenous communities to leave their ancestral land in order to expand the tourism industry.

Despite the international condemnation of the Tanzanian government’s land grabs and human rights abuses, Lindblad plans to “further accelerate the growth of the Wineland-Thomson offerings and capitalize on the growing demand” for safaris. The deal and the firm’s expansion plans illustrate the growing corporatization of safari tourism in the name of conservation, which threatens local communities across Africa. Lindblad Expeditions is listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange and its shareholders include major asset management firms such as Ariel Investments, Fidelity, Blackrock, and Vanguard Group. In 2023, the firm reported over US$569 million in revenue.

Lindblad Expeditions advertises itself as a “leader in responsible travel and sustainability” and its subsidiary that it acquired Thomson Safaris through – Natural Habitat Adventures (Nat Hab) – is a self-proclaimed “world leader in conservation travel.” Both companies have high-profile partnerships with National Geographic and WWF. Nat Hab boasts that “when you travel with Nat Hab and WWF, you become an integral force for change in addressing the planet's most pressing conservation challenges.”

However, WWF has been widely criticized for advancing a “fortress conservation” model1 and for turning a blind eye to multiple cases of torture, rape, and murder of local communities committed by rangers in its conservation projects across several countries.2

Lindblad Expeditions claims to be 100 percent carbon neutral as it “offsets” its emissions through South Pole – a firm which has also been embroiled in numerous scandals,3 most notably regarding its flagship Kariba REDD+ project in Zimbabwe.

“The growing involvement of large profit-driven conglomerates in the tourism sector is alarming for local communities whose livelihoods are jeopardized by the loss of their ancestral lands. If Lindblad and Nat Hab are truly as committed to responsible travel and sustainability as they advertise, they must immediately address the Maasai communities’ demand for the return of their land from Thomson Safaris,” concluded Mittal. 


  1. Former U.N. special rapporteur on human rights and the environment, John Knox, said at the October 26, 2021 Congressional hearing that there’s enough evidence supporting the accusation that WWF had engaged in “fortress conservation.” Abulu, L. and Sutherland, L. “WWF distances itself from rights abuses at U.S. congressional hearing.” Mongabay, November 2, 2021.

  2. Nepal, Cameroon, the Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo and India. A 2020 independent review commissioned by WWF revealed that the agency knew for years that it was funding alleged human rights abusers but repeatedly failed to take timely action.The investigation found no evidence that WWF staff directed, participated in, or encouraged any abuses. During a subsequent US Congressional hearing in 2021, WWF came under fire for failing to meet its human rights obligations.

  3. An investigation by Follow the Money in 2023 revealed that over 60 percent of the carbon credits sold from the project by South Pole were fictious given they vastly overestimated the amount of deforestation prevented by the project. The failures of the Kariba project are indicative of serious legitimacy questions plaguing the broader carbon offset market. A 2023 investigation found that over 90 percent of credits certified by Verra – the industry leading certification agency used by South Pole – were “phantom credits” that did not represent actual carbon reductions. Blake, H. “The Great Cash-for-Carbon Hustle.” The New Yorker, October 16, 2023.; Elgin, B., Marsh, A., and M. Haldevang. “Faulty Credits Tarnish Billion-Dollar Carbon Offset Seller.” Bloomberg, March 24, 2023.; Greenfield, P. and N. Chingono. “‘We don’t know where the money is going’: the ‘carbon cowboys’ making millions from credit schemes.” The Guardian, March 15, 2024.; “BP and Spotify bought carbon credits at risk of link to forced Uyghur labour in China.” The Guardian, November 12, 2023.