Human-carnivore conflict remains a tricky problem in wildlife conservation, but reinforcing traditional fencing structures may provide a cost-effective solution
Evelyn Makena @evemake_g
It’s hardly what you expect to see. Deep in Mara North Conservancy, Narok County, cows nonchalantly graze amidst impalas, zebras and gazelles just within easy reach of predators that roam the natural wilderness. When darkness falls, the cows retreat to simple metallic enclosures within the conservancy that keep them safe.
The fortified bomas adopted by the Conservancy, have proved successful in deterring lion attacks on livestock and retaliatory killings of the big cats. The Bomas is an improved version of the Maasai cow pens, which are traditionally fenced with acacia thorns and dry twigs.
Traditional bomas have spaces in between and are not safe enough to keep lions, hyenas and leopards from preying on livestock.
When this happens, livestock owners retaliate by killing predators contributing to the decline of the big cats particularly, the lion. “Mara North, which has a herd of over 200 cows has set up the fortified bomas to demonstrate to the community that wildlife and livestock can peacefully coexist,” says Daniel Ole Muli, Regional Coordinator, Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association, the umbrella body of 14 conservancies within the greater Maasai Mara ecosystem.
Joseph Nabaala, Aitong area chief says competition for resources between human and wildlife due to rapid population growth and climate change has fueled rampant human-wildlife conflict. Planting chilli fences and beekeeping have particularly proved effective in warding off elephants that stray into nearby farms and destroy crops.
Elephants are afraid of bees due to their painful sting and their buzzing sound. They also cannot stand chillies because the irritant causes them to cough and sneeze. Within the greater Maasai Mara ecosystem- the area outside the reserve, local communities have partnered with wildlife conservancies to protect crucial wildlife habitats.
Members of the community lease their land to the conservancies and benefit from a guaranteed monthly income, employment opportunities and improved revenues from tourism. Engaging the communities in activities that help tackle human-wildlife conflict by finding a balance between conservation and supporting livelihoods has been vital in ensuring peaceful coexistence.
This community-led conservation model adopted by the Maasai Mara conservancies struck a chord with a delegation of Zambian conservation representatives who were in the country last month on a benchmarking mission. The delegation comprising of government officials, traditional leaders and conservation representatives was keen on finding best practices of community conservation in the country.
“Operational community conservancies in Zambia are few while others are in their infant stages,” says His Royal Highness Chief Mujimanzovu of the North Western region of Zambia.
Unlike in Kenya, where the mainland tenures are state and private, in Zambia land is under the state and customary leadership. Traditional leadership is pronounced in Zambia with over 300 chiefdoms across the country under who’s the custodian of the biggest chunk of land lies.
Although most of the wildlife-protected areas are under customary land, they are controlled by the government, which makes the process of forming conservancies long.
Through the support of The Nature Conservancy, a charitable environmental organisation, several conservation bodies in Zambia are in the process of forming conservancies around key wildlife habitats in order to increase community involvement in wildlife conservation and secure livelihoods.
The Nature Conservancy has been working with conservation stakeholders around Kafue national park, the largest in Zambia to address threats such as poaching, wildfires and environmental degradation.
According to Victor Siamudaala, country director, The Nature Conservancy, Zambia program, the best community conservation practices learnt in Kenya will offer powerful insights that could help inform the process of forming new conservancies in Zambia.