Category Archives: Ruaha

Culture without borders

Pastoralism as a lifestyle is shared and practiced by several communities around the world. The main activity shared by all of them though, revolves around livestock production. This, to all pastoralists, is the main common trait and anything else, including language, cultural practices, belief system or organizational structures, can be different. When we expanded the LG Program to Ruaha in Tanzania( in collaboration with the Ruaha Carnivore Project), the Barabaig community was identified as the main lion killers because of their cultural practices. Amongst them, a lion killer would be rewarded with livestock by most of his relatives. This reward system became a major motivating factor behind lion killing. In contrast, for the Maasai lion killing was done to receive a lion name from the warrior’s peers.

During the 2013 Lion Guardians Games, held on June 13th, the warriors from both communities met and competed together for the first time.

The whole Barabaig team came dressed to kill!

The whole Barabaig team came dressed to kill!

As the majority of Ruaha Guardians were not acquainted with the majority of their Maasai brothers, the organization of the games was geared to ensuring that these young men with a shared objective embrace each other. The embrace was quick but their competitive spirit remained alive. The competition for whistling (a herding practice found in both cultures) set the ball rolling and was won by the Barabaig (you can listen to an example of Gwagi, the winner, whistling here). Their Maasai hosts were stirred and vowed to win the remaining events. We at this point made a decision to mix the teams and from there onward, each competitor represented his team, not his country or his community; but even then, the games still measured up to their competitive billing.

After the games the Ruaha LGs stayed behind at our newly built LG Training Center for further instruction and field experience.

Assistant Program Manager Richard Morinke teaching Darem how to use a telemetry receiver.

Assistant Program Manager Richard Morinke teaching Darem how to use a telemetry receiver.

When the Eselenkei community invited us to a traditional ceremony, we gladly accepted and took the Barabaig LGs with us. As warriors from both communities interacted, even though they spoke completely different languages, within no time they were able to understand each other through song and dance. The Barabaig LGs were dancing and jumping to different Maasai musical tunes and vice-versa.

Gwagi on the left and Noah on the right demonstrating their different styles to the great delight of the bystanders.

Gwagi on the left and Sunte on the right demonstrating their different styles to the great delight of the bystanders.

This bond between young men from two different communities surprised and entertained not only us but also the Maasai elders in attendance. Maasai women cheered both set of warriors to out jump each other and the exciting spectacle is still the talk of the community! Who said you can’t dance and jump to a different tune?

Spoor Counting

By: Tory Shelley

Yellow, purple, white, red, and orange are only a few of the colors on display here in in Ruaha during the rainy season. The wildflowers are in full bloom, the grass often reaches over our heads, the trees are a-buzz with insects and birds, and the watermelons are plentiful, ripe, and refreshing. Afternoon thunderstorms leave us with a welcomed cool breeze and often a rainbow stretching across the freshly blue sky. Quite a difference from the dry dusty days of blazing sun that defines the dry season.

Wild flowers along a spoor route

Wild flowers along a spoor route

Wild flowers blooming

Wild flowers blooming

LG Pascal on a spoor route

LG Pascal on a spoor route

Eric and the biggest Baobab

Eric and the biggest Baobab

Dr. Steph Dolrenry, Director of Carnivore Biology and Eric Ole Kesoi the Community Liaison Officer for LG Kenya, came down to Ruaha last month to conduct some further training with the LGs here. One part of that training was setting up spoor routes. “Spoor?” Spoor is an English (U.K.) word for animal tracks. Over a period of two weeks, together with the LGs, we walked over 200 kilometers through the LG zones setting up spoor counting routes. For each zone, of which there are four, a 10-12 km long transect was established. The LGs will walk these transects once a week and collect data on the presence of lions, the various carnivores that compete with lions (leopard, cheetah, wild dog, and hyena), as well as available lion prey (wild pigs, impala, kudu, giraffe and eland) found in their areas by recording the tracks they find.

Eric pointing out a kudu track to Gwagi

Eric pointing out a kudu track to Gwagi

Leopard tracks

Leopard tracks

LGs Pascal and Mandela counting Impala tracks on their spoor route

LGs Pascal and Mandela counting Impala tracks on their spoor route

left to right: George (Coordinator), Steph, Eric, LG Kiro laughing at how far we have walked (25kms!) on the GPS

left to right: George (Coordinator), Steph, Eric, LG Kiro laughing at how far we have walked (25kms!) on the GPS

left to right: Eric, Dewita (a LG volunteer), and Steph

left to right: Eric, Dewita (a LG volunteer), and Steph

LG Daudi

LG Daudi

Coordinator George training LG Daudi on how to fill out the Spoor counting data form

Coordinator George training LG Daudi on how to fill out the Spoor counting data form

The LG Coordinator here in Ruaha, George Sedoyeka has written his first story in English and we want to share it with you all here.  Enjoy!

MY FAVORITE DAY SPOOR COUNTING

By: George Sedoyeka, LG-Ruaha Coordinator

I woke up early, around 5:00am and met with my team (Eric, Tory and Stephanie a.k.a Nasha) and we drove to Muwira, about 70kms from camp, to mark a spoor route with the Lion Guardians there. At 6:30am we reached the big tree that we planned with Gwagi (LG) and Dewita (a volunteer LG from Muwira) to meet at as a place to start our work. They are from that area (Muwira) and know the bush very well and so they could lead us. Gwagi starting leading us in the direction of a place for good spoor counting. We went up to Dewita’s boma on the way to Gwagi’s boma and then decided to start the spoor counting toward Kibugire area as it was a place both Gwagi and Dewita could meet early in the morning to begin their route.

As I said in the title, it was my favorite day because we passed a watermelon farm and the owner allowed us to eat as much watermelon as we possibly could because he had so many! It was my first time to see Eric eating watermelon since he arrived in Tanzania! All of us enjoyed the watermelon because we were thirsty and hungry from all that walking! We continued on our way until we reached to the point needed to end the route. Then we headed back in the direction that we came from, passing the watermelon farm again and the owner gave us three more watermelons! We ate two right then and took one with us. I didn’t reach the car with the watermelon I was carrying because it was very heavy. I dropped it and we all ate it on the way back to the car. That day we ate five watermelons! We went to Dewita’s boma and greeted his family, then starting walking back to the car, so we said goodbye to his family and left Dewita and Gwagi. But after leaving, Dewita came running up and brought maize (corn) for us to take home. We made it back to a car with our full bellies and drove back to the camp.  It was a delicious and productive day!

Dewita carrying a watermelon for the walk home

Dewita carrying a watermelon for the walk home

Gwagi enjoying some watermelon

Gwagi enjoying some watermelon

LG Volunteer Dewita

LG Volunteer Dewita

 Something quite special happened each day. The LGs have an intimate relationship with their land and know it well. Though sometimes we were practically crawling through a tangle of vines and thorny Acacias, and often it felt like we were not on a trail, the LGs lead with the confidence and familiarity that comes from a lifetime of herding and walking through the bush. The organic process of the LGs leading the way gives them ownership of their work and a chance to show their tracking skills and stamina. The ownership the LGs feel, is part of what makes this program so successful.

 “In the end, we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand.
We will only understand what we are taught.”
– Baba Dioum

The LG program and the Lion Guardians themselves are constantly learning from, and teaching, each other. While the LG program brings systematic monitoring systems and the tome of knowledge from scientific literature, the LGs bring traditional ecological knowledge and a particular understanding of the land and all of the life it supports. Together, we are able to monitor the lions and other wildlife while also understanding the people who also live on this land and their relationship with the wildlife. This exchange of knowledge is at the heart of the success of Lion Guardians as a culturally flexible and scientifically stable lion conservation program. Help support the Lion Guardians and all of their hard work!

The Lion Guardian project in Ruaha is a collaboration with Panthera and the Ruaha Carnivore Project.

left to right: LGs Mandela, Pascal, and Dareum being trained on Spoor counting

left to right: LGs Mandela, Pascal, and Dareum being trained on Spoor counting

Literacy Training of the Ruaha Lion Guardians

by Tory Shelley

The Ruaha Lion Guardians program is a collaboration between Lion Guardians, The Ruaha Carnivore Project and Panthera

Like the vast majority of the Barabaig community, the Ruaha Lion Guardians  have had no formal schooling, with the exception of one (Ema). These young men in their mid to late 20’s cannot read or write in Swahili (Tanzania’s chosen language), Barabaig (their mother tongue and traditional language) or English (the language of business in East Africa and much of the world). As part of their jobs, the Lion Guardians have learned to understand and legibly fill out their data collection forms in Swahili. This may seem like a small feat in our world of relatively accessible and ubiquitous education, but when they were first hired, only Ema could so much as write his own name.

The Lion Guardians expressed a keen interest in continuing to improve their literacy skills in Swahili and we have responded by running weekly literacy training sessions for them. The newest member of our team, George Sedoyeka, a rare Barabaig who has completed his education through Form 4 (the equivalent of high school) is our literacy teacher. George aspires to attend University and continue his studies of wildlife and biology. Lucky for us, George previously worked as a primary school teacher and is a skilled educator with enormous patience. He creates the literacy curriculum and he runs the lessons.

George Teaching

George Teaching

The training sessions have been incredibly successful and full of hard work as well as laughter. We started with the alphabet and have slowly moved onto learning to recognize, spell, write, and read words related to their work like “simba” (lion) and “n’gombe” (cow).

Gwagi practicing his ABCs

Gwagi practicing his ABCs

Watching an adult learn to read in front of your eyes is incredible. There are moments when it all comes together – when it “clicks” – and the look on their face is a priceless shine; glowing as they recognize a word for the first time. As all good learning experiences are, these sessions are an open space where the Guardians are encouraged to ask questions and are free to express doubt. To people who have never been in a classroom setting before, the experience of concentrating and learning can been particularly tough and requires immense patience and effort. The Guardians are not only learning an entirely new skill set, but they are creating new mental pathways and applying themselves in ways they never have before.

The whole class interacts

The whole class interacts

And finds it all quite amusing!

And finds it all quite amusing!

But they eventually get serious under George's watchful eye.

But they eventually get serious under George’s watchful eye.

The Guardians leave these sessions full of pride 😉 and feeling competent and accomplished. In a community where formal schooling is an uncommon experience, the training the Guardians receive as part of their work is quite remarkable. Literacy training is another benefit of the Lion Guardians program and while we are only working with the Guardians at the moment, the plan is to expand the literacy training to those interested in the general community. Continue to follow our adventures in Ruaha and support the hard work of the Lion Guardians by making a donation!

A lesson well learned

A lesson well learned

Seeing Lions

By Tory Shelley

Recently, the Ruaha Lion Guardians team took a trip into Ruaha National Park for an all day game drive in hopes of seeing lions.

The Lion Guardians observing hippos in Ruaha National Park

The Lion Guardians observing hippos in Ruaha National Park

The park is a mere 20km away from the village land where the Lion Guardians operate so it is very possible that the lions in the park could be the very same lions that create the tracks and sign that the Lion Guardians find and document.

Lion tracks found by the LGs on village land outside of the protected areas (the pen is about 5 inches long)

Lion tracks found by the LGs on village land outside of the protected areas (the pen is about 5 inches long)

This was the first time some of the Lion Guardians had been inside the park in a vehicle and purely as sightseers (two had been on a park trip once in the past provided to pastoralists by the Ruaha Carnivore Project). This was very exciting and we were lucky enough to see wild lions that day three different times! The first encounter was with a large older male lion who was sleeping in the shade of a tree. He let us watch him for a while as the Lion Guardians piled onto the right side of the car to get a better look.

Male lion resting under a tree in Ruaha National Park

Male lion resting under a tree in Ruaha National Park

The Lion Guardians were very excited as they had never before just watched a lion from a close distance, especially without a spear in their hand. Later that day we came upon a female with an older cub and a sub-adult, all resting in the shade of a tree on the edge of the then dry Ruaha riverbed. Again, the Lion Guardians piled onto that side of the car to get better look and discussed the health of the lions and commented that the lions looked strong.

Lioness, cub and sub-adult resting in the afternoon heat

Lioness, cub and sub-adult resting in the afternoon heat

Then, as we were driving back toward the entrance of the park, Lion Guardian Darem pointed out the window and said “Ngadida” (lion in Kibarabaig) under his breath. Sure enough two lions, a male and a female, were walking steadily through the tawny dry grass about 30 meters from the car. We would have just driven by as the lions were well camouflaged, but Darem’s trained eye spotted them right away.

We were fortunate enough to see many animals that day including elephant, zebra, giraffe, buffalo, kudu and countless other species. But we were particularly lucky to see the lions! This peaceful interaction with wild lions is a crucial aspect of the Lion Guardians experience as most of them have only had exposure to wild lions in the context of tracking and hunting them. As the Lion Guardian program here in Ruaha does not yet include placing radio collars on the lions which would allow us to locate them with telemetry equipment, this intimate time with wild lions inside of Ruaha National Park is critical to the experience and training of the Lion Guardians. Continue to follow our adventures here in Ruaha and support the Lion Guardians hard work!

The Ruaha Lion Guardians project is a collaboration between Lion Guardians, Ruaha Carnivore Project and Panthera.

Too hot to even stand up, elephants rest in the shade of a tree

Too hot to even stand up, elephants rest in the shade of a tree

Giraffe browsing on a small tree pokes his head up to check out the Lion Guardians

Giraffe browsing on a small tree pokes his head up to check out the Lion Guardians

 

Introducing the Ruaha Lion Guardians team

By Tory Shelley


All of the Lion Guardians in Ruaha come from traditional Barabaig households where it is common to have more than one wife and many children. As pastoralists, livestock herding is the main occupation for the Barabaig and cattle are the direct equivalent of wealth (i.e. more cattle means more wealthy). The Lion Guardians we hire come from families who have few cattle and none but one of the Lion Guardians have attended formal schooling.

In Barabaig culture, to gain respect in the community and to enter into “manhood” it is necessary to successfully throw the first spear into a living being. Therefore, there is a distinction between killing and spearing an animal. For example, if one has “speared” a lion it means they might have been on a hunt with 5-100 other hunters but they were the first to successfully spear the animal. If they have “killed” a lion, it means that they were the one who gave the killing blow. While Barabaig men must spear any living being as part of becoming a man, spearing and killing lions holds special regard and is highly rewarded.

We are pleased to introduce you to the Ruaha Lion Guardians Team and share with you a bit of their amazing life stories! 

Stephano Kiligoda Asecheka is the Coordinator for Lion Guardians Ruaha. Stephano is 33 years old and is one of 14 children. He is a local Barabaig who, previous to his work with Lion Guardians, had the unofficial role of problem-solver in the community. His respected role in the community has lent itself seamlessly to his new role as the Lion Guardian coordinator. He continues to mitigate conflict within the community and, with training from Lion Guardians, has expanded his ability to navigate conflict the community has with wildlife while guiding and supporting the Lion Guardians in their work. His family lives as traditional Barabaig pastoralists and he has two wives and five children. He has attended many hunts, but has not killed or speared any lions. Stephano believes in the power of education and that through sharing information about lions with the community, people will understand and experience the benefits of the Lion Guardian program and the benefits of keeping lions alive on village land. He is a dynamic public speaker and attends many meetings in the community to talk about the importance of lion conservation in the area and the benefits of the Lion Guardian program. His favorite aspect of being part of Lion Guardians is walking out in the bush, verifying lion tracks, and spending time in the bush with the Lion Guardians. He is keen to learn new skills and hopes that as the lion population grows in the area that there will be more opportunities for jobs with Lion Guardians in the Barabaig community.

Daudi Kinyoka Amdala is 22 years old and one of nine children. He has attended 10 hunts and has speared one lion. Daudi enjoys his work as a Lion Guardian and believes that the Lion Guardian program reduces the hardships of life. He particularly enjoys looking for lion tracks. Daudi is a deliberate tracker and thoughtful colleague; always noticing small details. Before his work with Lion Guardians, Daudi herded his families’ livestock and hunted. He is keen to learn English, an uncommon skill amongst the Barabaig. He has one wife and is a respected member of the community and a committed family man.

 

Darem Philipo Haiphizo is 20 years old and one of five children. He has attended nine hunts and has killed one lion. Darem sees the benefits of Lion Guardians and employment as he is now able to contribute livestock to his family. His favorite part of being a Lion Guardian is finding lion tracks, especially when the lions have rested and one can see the outline left by their body and tail in the sand. Darem enjoys his work and often has a smile on his face and a laugh in his speech. His father is a very respected spiritual healer and his older brother is an artist who is responsible for many of the decorated bangles seen being worn by the Barabaig community.

 

Gwagi Gaga Na is 27 years old and one of three children. He has killed five lions and speared 31. Before becoming a Lion Guardian, he was a very active lion hunter, having attended over 90 hunts and having killed five lions – a large number by any standard. This fact makes him a particularly influential member of the community, especially among hunters, and a very important member of our Lion Guardian team when it is time to stop lion hunts. Gwagi is grateful for the employment opportunity that the Lion Guardians project provides as he has three wives and five children to support. He enjoys looking for lion tracks and is a seasoned and deft tracker.

 

Ema Momoya Kwashema is 20 years old and one of six children. Both his parents have passed away and so he helps support his siblings. He has attended eight hunts and has speared two lions. Ema believes that helping to find lost livestock and being able to tell herders where lions can be found (and therefore protect livestock) are huge benefits for the community. As Ema is the only Lion Guardian who has had some level of formal education he often is a teacher to the others, assisting them with their writing and reading skills. Ema is one of our best trackers and is incredibly good at differentiating the tracks of wildlife with similar prints such as leopard and young lion. He suffered from polio as a young boy and to this day walks with a limp but this does not stop him from being an avid tracker and successful Lion Guardian.

Mandela Kaseri Dudmeka is 18 years old and one of 10 children. He is the youngest Lion Guardian, but he has attended 18 hunts and speared one lion. Mandela is grateful for the employment that Lion Guardians provides as he is now able to buy livestock to help support his family. His parents have both passed away and the income from his work makes a big difference in his family. His family is particularly supportive of his work and are very proud of him. His favorite part of being a Lion Guardian is looking for lion tracks and finding fresh ones. Mandela is very skilled at noticing details and will be the first to show you where a lion made a small movement. He often explains how the lions spend their time in a story-like fashion while pointing out the various lion tracks and sign left behind.


Victoria (Tory) Shelley
is the project manager for the Ruaha site. She is assisting with the training and helps things run smoothly until we can place the management completely in the hands of the local Tanzanians. She has a Master’s degree in Conservation Biology and Sustainable Development from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and has expertise in human-carnivore conflict mitigation

 

The Ruaha Lion Guardians is a collaboration between Lion Guardians, Ruaha Carnivore Project and Panthera.

Barabaig Lion Guardians in Ruaha, Tanzania – “Ngadida”

By Victoria Shelley, Ruaha

The Lion Guardians expansion into Ruaha is an exciting collaboration between Lion Guardians, the Ruaha Carnivore Project and Panthera.

Ruaha National Park in central Tanzania is Tanzania’s largest national park (22,200 km2) and home to an estimated 3,500 lions. The sheer size of the protected area offers the cats some protection but the protected area is surrounded by human communities where conflict with livestock owners is widespread.  After many months of planning and logistics, the expansion of the Lion Guardians program in Ruaha is moving forward full force.

In August 2012 we hired five young Barabaig men who previously were active lion hunters to be Lion Guardians in Ruaha.

The Ruaha Lion Guardians: from left to right, Gwagi, Darem,
Stephano (coordinator), Ema, Mandela, and Daudi. We will profile them in an upcoming blog. Stay tuned!

These Lion Guardians cover 113km2 of village land outside Ruaha National Park.  Like the Maasai, the Barabaig are a nomadic pastoralist community who share land and resources with lions. The word for lion in Kibarabaig is “ngadida” (pronounced nah-gah-deed-ah). And, like the Maasai, the Barabaig not only hunt lions in retaliation for killing livestock, but they also have strong cultural reasons for killing lions. But the cultural relationship the Barabaig have with lions is different than that of the Maasai. The Barabaig engage in incentive-driven traditional killing; a lion killer is rewarded by his family and community with gifts of cattle and sometimes a wife for killing a lion, but there is no symbolic sharing of the lion’s name between the lion that is killed and the warrior that killed it which is so important in Maasai culture.

The Lion Guardians in Ruaha have exceptional tracking skills and are influential members of their community. Prior to being hired as Lion Guardians, none but one Lion Guardian (Ema) could so much as write their own name. Three months later all  Lion Guardians have improved their literacy skills tremendously. All can now write their name, the area in which they work, as well as correctly read, and legibly fill out, all data forms in Kiswahili – no small feat for these young Barabaig pastoralists who have never spent a day in school.

Lion Guardian Mandela filling in his GPS data sheet

In addition to their on-going literacy training, Timoine and Mokoi, two seasoned Lion Guardians from Kenya, travelled from Kenya to Ruaha for a week in mid-September to lead further training. They trained the Ruaha Lion Guardians on how to use a GPS unit and how to fill out the three different data forms correctly. Timoine and Mokoi also shared their knowledge of tracking, their extensive experience with stopping lion hunts, strategies for working through issues that come up in the community, and the role of Lion Guardians in general.

Timoine and Mokoi (in the red) train Ema (second from left) and
Daudi (far right)

This training provided not only a marked increase in the skill sets of the new Lion Guardians, but also fed their enthusiasm for the work that they do and their connection to a bigger network of Lion Guardians in Kenya.

Lion Gaurdians Darem, Mandela, Ema, Daudi (pointing), Gwagi,
and Ruaha Coordinator Stephano, look into the distance at
vultures circling over what might be a lion kill as Timoine
shows them how to use binoculars.

 

Even though the Lion Guardians here in Ruaha are the first Lion Guardians who are not Maasai, all of the Lion Guardians took interest in each other, learning about and appreciating the differences between Barabaig and Maasai culture as well as communing over the overwhelming similarities between them and all pastoralist societies.

Timoine (right) supervises Darem (center) while he takes a
GPS point of a lion track while Ema (left) looks on

The training session ended with a celebration together including dancing, singing, and roasting a goat in Kenyan style. All ate together and laughed a lot, enjoying each other’s company. We look forward to continuing our progress here in Ruaha as the rainy season approaches and we increase our knowledge of the lion population in the area and further develop our conflict mitigation skills. Up to date no lion have been killed in the areas where the new Lion Guardians are operating. Continue to follow our stories on the blog and support the Lion Guardians hard work.