About UsMy name is Eric Ole Kesoi, Lion Guardians Co-ordinator.
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Tag Archives: Maasai
Peace and order has returned to the Amboseli ecosystem after a series of meetings held between the communities surrounding Amboseli National Park and the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). The meetings were attended by thousands of community members as well as by top government officials. In the most recent meeting which was held on the 27th of August, the anger and emotions witnessed in the two previous meetings were replaced with the order and respect for which the Maasai community is well known. The main agenda item of the meetings has been to discuss a way to fairly distribute the revenue generated by Amboseli National Park to the communities living in the areas surrounding the park, who are experiencing high rates of human-wildlife conflict and are incurring significant costs (both monetary and life) as a result. This has been and still is a very contentious issue and is at the root of most of the retaliatory and political killings of wildlife that have occurred in the area.
To present a unified front, the community leaders all met ahead of the meetings to put together a unified list of grievances and demands that was presented to KWS. Severalof these issues can be addressed directly by KWS, but there are also many that are dependent upon the enactment of the 2011Wildlife Bill, which has yet to be passed in parliament and upon legal interpretations of the recently introduced new constitution. So finding a solution that will be satisfactory to all parties will be an on going process – but the good news is that a productive discussion has been started and is proceeding forward.
A crucial element of the meeting is that the communities have all agreed that they will no longer take their frustrations out on the innocent animals and will instead focus on directing their energies towards advocating for a fair allocation of revenue sharing through further discussions with KWS and through the legal and judicial systems. The group ranch leaders have informed all of their members that the killing of wildlife is unacceptable and will not be tolerated and they also invited all of the conservation organizations working in the ecosystem to resume their operations.
We are greatly relieved by this news and our Lion Guardians have now resumed their daily duties.
The on-going human-wildlife conflict in Amboseli moved a notch higher yesterday with a complete show of bravado never seen in the recent past. Monday in the middle of the night a lioness, Amyjane, had jumped into a boma adjacent to the park, killed a donkey and cow, and was speared in the front left leg. The morans responsible for the spearing wanted to follow her into the park, but were persuaded not to by elders and village leaders. The morans heeded their advice, but continued to monitor the movement of the lioness inside the park. The following morning we were called in to track and assess the situation of the lioness. She was deep inside a small thicket when we found her and it was clear that she was experiencing a lot of pain. She didn’t move when we drove close with the vehicle and she exhibited a lot of aggression which is unlike her normal behavior.
Then as fate would have it, the veterinary officer that was supposed to treat her was summoned very early in the morning to attend to a rhino that had died due to a gun wound from poachers in the Chyulu Game Reserve. While awaiting the vet to arrive, we responded to another depredation report we received from Lion Guardian Jackson in a nearby zone.
During that time, a herder brought livestock inside the park for water very close to where Amyjane was hidden. When she saw the herder, she growled and the livestock scampered for safety, thus prompting the herder to summon the morans from the nearby cultural boma. They responded immediately and tracked the lion within 10 minutes and speared her ten times till she succumbed to death.
At this time we had just finished verifying Jackson’s report and were on our way back to check on Amyjane, with five Kenya Wildlife Service rangers we picked up on the way. As we were approaching the site where we last saw her (about 50 meters away) we found a lion paw freshly cut. We immediately started to fret, but we also thought that maybe it belonged to another lion that might have been killed earlier that morning.
Worried, we rushed to the site where we had last seen Amyjane just an hour ago, but she was nowhere to be seen! We immediately reached for the receiver to track her collar, but unfortunately after five minutes of searching we came up empty handed. At this time we returned with the KWS rangers to where the paw was found and started tracking the perpetrators foot prints. Using my traditional tracking skills we followed their fresh tracks for about five minutes until we reached Amyjane.
Her body was dismembered; specifically the torso was cut in half and placed 50 meters apart likely to conceal the killing. Her head and all of her paws were missing. This was proof that her killers were in a hurry to leave the site, accompanied by their intentions to sell the fresh trophies to the nearby tourists who visit the park. Interestingly, the tail which is the most important part of traditional lion killing celebrations was still intact: meaning that the killing was not traditionally motivated. It was a ghastly site to see, especially given the fact that we had just seen her alive a few hours ago. I was horrified and heart broken at the same time.
After joining Amyjane’s torso to verify it was one lion that was killed we decided to follow the fresh tracks of the warriors, which led to the nearby cultural bomas. What was interesting is that the cultural boma, which is always a bee-hive of activities (especially during the high season), was so conspicuously silent that one could hear a pin drop!
Amyjane whose pride has known misfortune over the last few years is the latest victim. Her sister mysteriously died two years ago and left her the duty of bringing up nine small cubs. She successfully brought six of those cubs to maturity, while one was killed by an elephant. Another was killed by a pair of resident male lions and the third was speared at the gate of the same cultural boma in which her mother’s killers live. Currently, she has three very small cubs whom she left with her companion, who also has three cubs of the same size. We hope that she will be able to bring up all six cubs, but it will be a very difficult feat.
During the past week in Olgulului Group Ranch, lions have gone on a rampage and killed three cows, three donkeys and seriously injured six cows, all resulting in three lion hunts. Lion Guardians managed to stop all the three lion hunting parties in the respective zones. This is due to our diplomatic and non-accusatory approach. But, unfortunately Amyjane was hunted inside the park (outside of our jurisdiction) where existing tensions between the community and KWS has lead to a decrease in tolerance.
Currently, the situation in Amboseli is tense and the relationship between the community and KWS is at its lowest ebb and we fear for the future of the local wildlife. The previous conflict resolution meeting on Aug 6th, failed to arrive at an amicable consensus between KWS and the Maasai community. The Maasai community gave KWS 21 days to respond to their petition requesting a fair distribution of the park revenue. If the morans are bold enough to hunt in the park in broad daylight and kill a collared lioness now, I shiver to think of what will happen if the trust between the community and KWS is severed over revenue-sharing. The parks wildlife will not survive without communal support and Amboseli National Park will be no more than a glorified zoo!!
The killing spree in Amboseli necessitated by political tensions between Kenya Wildlife Service and political leaders had a devastating effect to both wildlife and the community. Community leaders met and took stock of the killings within all of the Group Ranches. The results were shocking, but would have been worse were it not for the critical but strategic intervention of some of the stakeholders. We can confirm the killing of 3 buffalos, 5 elephants and a sub adult female lion. The lion was intentionally driven out and killed at the edge of Amboseli Park after attempting to kill a cow during the day. One of the new Morans was the first to spear, but she injured 2 people. The carcass was transported on motorbikes and disposed of and has yet to be found. Coincidentally, a male lion that killed a cow on the Tanzania-Kenya border was also killed by Tanzanian Maasai.
About 18 elephants were speared but escaped with injuries and the relevant authorities are currently treating many. These killings appeared to have instilled a sense of fear among the wildlife and added stress to the elephants. A lot of resources were utilized in protecting and providing security as well as apprehending the culprits. A total of 44 Morans were arrested and released. Thirty-one of them received serious injuries and were admitted to a hospital in Namanga and the situation is still tense. Shortly after tempers cooled, two female lionesses killed a cow and a donkey and a party of 18 Morans attempted to kill them near Kitirwa. The Morans thereafter openly admitted swallowing their pride and went home after the lionesses, with 6 small cubs, went wild and instilled some fear into them.
Human-wildlife conflict in any pastoralist environment is inevitable and has existed since time immemorial therefore Amboseli ecosystem is no exception. The negotiations leading to the creation of the Amboseli National Park in the early 1970’s were not smooth and due to the political tensions and resulting hunting, the rhino population was decimated. In the early 1990’s, populations of key wildlife species like buffalo, elephants and lions were also nearly wiped out due to spearing from further conflicts with surrounding communities as well as age-set traditional hunts . A community based conservation approach spearheaded by various stakeholders helped restore sanity and within a short time, wildlife populations recovered. A transformed Kenya Wildlife Service adopted the community oriented approach to conservation which eventually led to the distribution of a certain percentage of the total gate collection from Amboseli as revenue sharing to adjacent Group Ranches.
The emergence of various community conservancies and sanctuaries created both awareness and an economic venture that brought significant benefits to the community. The creation of conservation organizations like Maasailand Preservation Trust, Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust, Lion Guardians and the critical intervention of African Wildlife Foundation as well as other important stakeholders widened the scope of understanding and took communal tolerance to a higher level. Lion Guardians and community game scouts within neighboring Group Ranches in collaboration with KWS rangers provided the much needed security intervention in conflict resolutions. For several years, apart from the usual conservation bottlenecks and challenges, everything has gone smoothly. In fact, for the first time in a decade, not a single lion was killed within the Amboseli ecosystem last year and all stakeholders were extremely proud of their vital contributions! KWS declared 2012 ’The Year of Communities’ and we were all hoping for the best.
Then a few days ago, an isolated but significant incident happened. A buffalo critically injured a person who eventually succumbed to death. This is nothing extraordinary since we have experienced this over the years. It is alleged that when the community asked for compensation, a KWS personnel responded in what was considered an insulting manner. The people went back, consulted and brought various grievances against KWS. In the morning, they mobilized able-bodied men, went into the Park, killed a buffalo and speared 4 elephants. They demanded a meeting with the KWS Director to no avail and they demanded another meeting to be held in a weeks time, which also did not occur. There and then, logic and reason took a back seat, anger and emotions took control while incitement took center-stage. Killing of key wildlife species started in the Group Ranches. Politically incited hunts, once started, are unstoppable.
What started as an ordinary human-wildlife conflict was transformed into a national issue when historical injustices spearheaded by politicians of Kajiado County, were brought forward. The local leaders no longer wanted to deal with KWS Amboseli but desired the institutional management, headquartered in Nairobi. A promise of 25% of total Amboseli gate collection as revenue sharing to the community by Former President Daniel Arap Moi became the bone of contention as leaders said they are currently receiving only 2%. A meeting to resolve the impasse is scheduled for the 6th August 2012. Even though we are unable to yet take stock of the damage caused by no less than 25 hunts in a span of 4 days, we can confirm the death of at least one elephant and two buffalos. Despite these hunts, after our strategic but diplomatic intervention, we are glad to inform you that to the best of our knowledge, no lion has been killed. We will keep you updated.
In September 2009, we received an unusual report from our Lion Guardian Kamunu. His report was of a group of 4 male lions of the same age traversing through the Selenkay conservancy. We had never had such a big group of males traveling together so we gave instructions for them to be closely followed. We were able to see them briefly one afternoon, but unfortunately that night , they went on a killing spree, killing 7 donkeys as well as several shoats from one neighboring community. In the morning they were hunted, but due to the efforts of the Lion Guardians and the Eselenkei Game Scouts, no one got hurt and all lions lived to see another day. The next day we collared the biggest and called him Sikiria (meaning he of the donkeys). He then disappeared for 4 months. We gave instructions to our Lion Guardians to track him down but to no avail. We even conducted aerial searches without success! One day when we were following a report of a male lion called Lomunyak on Mbirikani Group Ranch, we did a call-in expecting Lomunyak to show up. We heard the approach of lions and when we shone the light, we saw 2 lions and to our utter surprise, it was Sikiria and his brother Oyayai. When we down loaded his GPS collar, we were completely baffled by his movement patterns. He had moved through Namanga, spending nearly two weeks up on Namanga Hill, then he went all the way to Torosei which borders Shompole briefly in to Tanzania and back to Eselenkei and over to Mbirikani! Shortly thereafter, he moved beyond the Chyulu hills to an area close to Tsavo West National Park, Kuku. On many occasions he killed livestock and was hunted. At one time in early 2011, he injured a young Moran who was with others, hunting Sikiria after he had killed a cow. Sikiria got away without a scratch.
Over the past few years, he has matured, behaved well and finally settled in a place called Oltiasika mating with more than 6 females and siring over 9 cubs. His pride is composed of 14 lions and is thus one of the biggest lion groups that our Lion Guardian Project monitors outside protected areas.
A few days ago, Sikiria, together with his brother and constant companion Oyayai, killed a cow at a place called Elang’ata Enkima on Kuku Group Ranch during the day. The cows were being herded by 3 Morans and when the Morans confronted these lions, Oyayai ran for his life but Sikiria waited for them. He was speared but in return he seriously injured 2 of the warriors while the 3rd ran home calling for reinforcements. Many Morans came to the rescue of their colleaques and speared Sikiria to death. But before he died, he seriously injured a 3rdMoran. All the injured Morans are currently recuperating at Loitokitok District hospital and we wish them quick recovery. According to the Maasai tradition, human injuries caused by any wildlife species is unforgivable and revenge is usually the ultimate response.
Up until he finally met his fate, and upon downloading his movement patterns, Sikiria had travelled almost 7,000 square km, passing through 21 of the 30 Lion Guardian zones. As far as we can find, he has one of the largest documented ranges outside the desert lions of the Namib. Sikiria has always been a problem lion but our Lion Guardians in conjunction with other stakeholders within the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem like Maasailand Preservation Trust game scouts, Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust and KWS –Amboselihave all contributed to his protection until he met his fate. He was well-known as a recent survey conducted in Lon Guardian areas showed. Over 70% of people in the surveyed areas could name at least one lion and Sikiria was the most frequently named; a lion legend. His prominent beauty, unique personality, and composure will always be missed by those who knew him.
Kenya is thought to be the epicenter of giraffe evolution since it is the only country in the world which is home to three subspecies; Rothschild, Reticulated and Maasai giraffe. It is understood that giraffe once roamed freely across the greater Rift Valley but decades of persecution, increased human settlement and accelerated habitat loss have had a major impact on their population. Experts originally believed a giraffe to be a cross between a camel and a leopard, an aspect that gave rise to its scientific name, Camelopardalis. Their beautiful coat pattern is like a human fingerprint or zebra stripe; each is unique and remains constant throughout the animal’s life.
During the 2009 devastating drought, giraffes within the Amboseli ecosystem were the only wildlife species whose population was largely unaffected. Requiring a massive 34 kilograms of food per day to fuel their large bodies, many giraffes spend most of their time foraging without worrying about the presence of nearby pastoralist. In the three Group Ranches that make up the Amboseli ecosystem, where most land is still communally owned, giraffes in their hundreds forage alongside Maasai livestock. Their number is commonly believed to be increasing and is not faced with any known threats. This is because to the Maasai, giraffes are harmless. They do not kill livestock nor compete with them. The various communal conservancies like Selenkay and Oldoinyo-wuas, which serves as focal concentration areas in the dry season, provide abundant water and food for different wildlife species, giraffe included. The open plains provide free mobility to seasonal migratory routes and even though it is important to understand their population trends in this ecosystem, I bet they have a healthy population.
Osewan is a re-known thicket that extends well beyond the jurisdiction of Lion Guardians. The Maasai section that inhabit most of this area are called Matapato and are yet to benefit from the fruits of conservation, thus highly intolerant to predators that kill their livestock. This is the same area in which one of our most beloved, well behaved and friendly female lions, Nosioki, and her cub were poisoned in October of last year. Even though, together with other stakeholders, we convened several community meetings in an effort to eradicate poisoning, we are still worried.
Pua, the resident male lion of Nosioki’s pride and the male cub that mysteriously survived the poisoning incident, have both been a permanent feature in this particular area, probably believing that Nosioki will one day suddenly show up. A few days ago, they were joined by 5 sub-adults from a female called Nooldoinyo, who also receives occasional visits from Pua. When these youngsters make a kill, they roar in an effort to invite their mother to the party and at times, they are known to even roar during the day. From our experience, this could invite trouble because every livestock lost will be attributed to them and retaliation might not be far off! Just a few days ago, they killed 10 goat kids in the same area and the 11th kid escaped by climbing a very tall ant-hill to outwit these youngsters. Understandably, people were not happy but we managed to cool them down.
Another group of lions from Eselenkei Group Ranch, who are also Nosioki’s off-spring, are known to inhabit part of this thick bush in Osewan. A male lion called Manenkop from Selenkay Conservancy has been making occasional visits in search of company but has now been there for the last 2 months. This brings the total population of lions in this particular communal area to a staggering figure of 11! This is an immensely high concentration of lions in a communal area without adequate monitoring. This is the same area in which we lost five lions in a span of six months last year. We therefore urgently need money to immediately employ at least 3 Lion Guardians from the Matapato section to monitor this area in which our current guardians are restricted. The protection and safety of this significant proportion of lions that we monitor will now depend on your willingness and ability to be part of the solution.
It was a normal day like any other for Lion Guardian Mingati Makarot form Olbili zone. He woke-up early enough to see the tracks of different wildlife species before they were destroyed by passing cattle. Before long, he saw tracks of 2 big male lions. He suspected who they might belong to, but wanted to be sure of their identity. After a few kilometers, he saw 2 lions basking in the sun and immediately identified them as Kasayo and Lormanie, the inseparable pair that patrols part of his zone and was impressed by the size of their manes.
When he retreated back to the main road from the bush, we met and as any Maasai do, we started exchanging news. He briefed me about his work, lion movement patterns, and community issues from his area and I did the same. I then informed him that this year, we might move the annual Lion Guardian Games forward and inquired whether he was ready to defend his title as the spear throwing champion. He immediately became animated and laughed, vowing to destroy his competitors early on with the first throw and leave them to play catch-up while watching their every move, and then finish them off with the second and final throw. He talks more forcefully and says ‘last year, because of my age and size, I was afraid of the bigger Morans, but now, I fear no one’. He thanked me for informing him of this and vowed to start practicing.
In line with the on-going Maasai traditional transition process, within the institution of Moranism, we have recruited Nchaama as our newest Lion Guardian. He has received all the necessary training and is slowly being molded by our senior Guardians and is proving to be a valuable addition to the Lion Guardian team. Upon our recruitment of him, his age-mates in the whole of Mbirikani Group Ranch chose him as their undisputed leader. This is a symbolic gesture that carries with it great influence, respect and power not only among his age-mates but also the wider community.
He is a strong, brave and above all, a respectful young Moran who ably displayed his skills during the Lion Guardian games where he gave the senior Guardians a run for their money in almost every event. He actually won a prize for his efforts that seem to come from a ‘spring of energy’. Hailing from a well-known conflict “hot spot” zone, Nchaama is a good tracker. These are skills that will come in handy during his lion monitoring and community work.
Among the lions that crisscross his expansive zone and who will be monitored by Nchaama, are Birdie with her cubs, Nemasi and her 3 cubs, and the resident pair of male lions, Kasayo and Lormanie who like to patrol alongside the volcanic lava of his zone. Nchaama is a prominent figure that can often be sighted on the exciting landscape that forms his zone. After being hired as a Lion Guardian Nchaama said “I promise to vote for lions my entire life and challenge all of his enemies to become good friends like me.’’ We intend to benefit from his immense pool of skills and influence, as we look forward to safeguarding the existing lion population within the Amboseli ecosystem.
Olamayiani – the blessed one, Mingati – one who is fast and doesn’t lag behind, Miterienanka – one who is quick to claim (win) glory by killing a lion. These are just some of the most popular lion names a moran (a Maasai warrior) can receive from spearing a lion.
In Maasai culture the first warrior to spear a lion in a successful hunt is given a name that represents the characteristics of both the warrior and the lion he speared. A lion name conveys upon the young warrior recognition and prestige amongst his community and peers. A warrior with a lion name feels that something great has happened to him. When the successful warrior brings the lion’s mane and tail back to his manyatta (his home in the community) to be put on display, he is treated and celebrated as a hero. Other warriors who don’t yet have their lion names yearn to have this same recognition and so dream about the day that it will be their turn to bring home the lion trophy.
When a Maasai boy is born, he has two names. One name reflects his father’s family. He also has a given name, which is usually chosen to honor a family friend, or someone respected by the family. If for some reason this given name becomes tainted, the boy’s father can give him a new name, but the family name never changes. Once a boy has been circumcised (usually between ages 16 to 18), he stops being called by these names. He is from that point on addressed with the generic name “Moran”, unless he has somehow already killed a lion, in which case he is called by his lion name. So there is more pressure than ever for a young Moran to distinguish himself from his other nameless peers and get a name that recognizes his strength, fearlessness and ability to protect his community.
However, the Maasai communities are beginning to discourage lion killing, due to the rapidly dwindling lion population; therefore many new warriors are not being given the opportunity to earn themselves a lion name, which is something that they have been dreaming about since childhood. In Eselenkei group ranch, just as a passing experiment, Lion Guardians started calling a few young Moran by lion names, even though they had not yet killed a lion. We found that the younger boys and girls of the community began addressing these young Moran by these lion names, and soon thereafter, the older members of the community did so as well. The idea caught on like wildfire and soon their peers in their age-set also wanted to have lion names. But we also found that there were still several warriors who felt that they wanted to prove themselves and their bravery in order to earn their lion name. For these warriors we have been assigning them Lion Guardian tasks, and if they are able to show that they understand conservation and are able to protect a lion, then they get a lion name that reflects the characteristics of the lions they are protecting. So it is a win-win situation for all. They are now earning the respect and admiration of their community for having protected a lion. This is just yet another example of how the Maasai are willing to adapt their culture to changing times while still holding on to the core principles and the essence of being a Maasai Warrior, a Moran.