Conservation Science & Policy: Day two – Maasai pastoralists and lions
The morning started with a walking safari in the conservancy land. As we left the campsite, the sky was tinted in the red shades of the dawn. It was unbelievable. Wherever we looked we could see wildlife; tracks on the ground below us, animals in front and above us, and there were no fences dividing us from them, just grass. The feeling was thrilling and the experience was an unforgettable one. Some of the most charismatic animals we saw along the walk were Maasai giraffes, white rhinos, lions, marabou storks, white-backed vultures, eelands, steppe eagles, buffalos, water bucks, three species of kingfisher, the two gazelles, Thompson’s and Grants, and the heaviest flying bird in the world, the Kori bustard. It was truly incredible.
Half way through the hike, we sat just about 100 meters away from a tower of grazing giraffes to listen to the wise words of our guide and Maasai chief, Nichson Palmisa, who shared with us some of his knowledge on the place and on Kenyan human-wildlife conflicts. For instance, unlike other African countries, like South Africa, Kenya adopts a land-share rather than a land-spare approach to conserve its wildlife. This means that usually wild animals are free-ranging and their movements are not restricted by fences, which exacerbates the conflict with the local communities as free-ranging predators take livestock significantly more often.
In the afternoon, we met with the Maasai pastoralists of the Empakasi community, who greeted and welcomed us warmly in their homelands. The focus group theme was on human-lion conflict; the Maasai pastoralists suffer from livestock predation and are thought to retaliate against lions by killing them, committing a legal offence punishable by law (USD 220,000 or life imprisonment). They were split into male and female groups, as previous groups have found that women participate much less in mixed groups; both discussions were infinitely interesting. The male pastoralists explained how their relationship with wildlife is “unfriendly” (referring to “friendly” as coexistence) because they lack the right support from the government, especially in terms of compensation payments once livestock is lost. While some of the pastoralists said that they would have been more than enthusiastic to coexist with wildlife as long as the government was supportive, some suggested that Maasai people and lions are born to be natural enemies. Hence, the conflict might be more deep-rooted and complex than it might first appear. The women had an open discussion, admitting to retaliation lion-kills whilst also talking about other pressures such as drought and disease.
After the focus group, we shared some time with some Maasai women that were super happy to show and sell us their products. Almost as if it was to be taken for granted that we would have seen some cool wildlife on the drive back, we were mesmerised by the sighting of a secretary bird.
In the evening Jacob, from the Wildlife Foundation, talked to us about the work they do with communities. The Wildlife Foundation was set up in 2000 as a response to increased subdivision of land, causing habitat fragmentation and blocking crucial wildlife corridors, with the aim to support communities to protect biodiversity and wildlife corridors. They have supported the community in establishing the conservancy which we’ve had the privilege to enjoy and are now helping them to establish a local wildlife conservancy and education centre. They also train local people to join a ‘scout network’, monitoring what happens in community and reporting any poaching or issues between humans and animals. It was a fantastic way to round off our stay in the conservancy.
Tomorrow we leave Oscar’s camp and head to Nakuru National Park to camp within the park, among its impressive wildlife.
Valerio Donfrancesco & Jacqui Keenan