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Saving Africa’s last wild lions by fencing them out

This is the first in a regular series of blog posts about what’s being done to help the world’s last big cats survive in the wild. It focuses on the work of National Geographic grantee Anne Kent Taylor, the construction of predator-proof livestock enclosures in prime big cat habitats in Kenya’s Maasai Mara region.

Big-Cats-Initative.jpgBut first some context:

The King of the Jungle is in serious trouble,

Fewer than 20,000 wild lions remain in Africa, less than five percent the number that once roamed the continent. Poisoned, hunted, driven into the last remaining pockets of wilderness, lions are being forced over the precipice of extinction

When the lions are gone the world will not only have lost a noble and legendary animal, but ancient ecosystems that depend on the apex predators will disintegrate.

But it’s too early to concede that the fight to save the lions is lost.

The National Geographic Big Cats Initiative is a program that finds and supports the conservationists, scientists, and community leaders dedicated to restoring and conserving lions and other big cats in their native habitat across the world.

Click on the image to find out more about the Big Cats Intiative. Photo compilation courtesy of Dereck and Beverly Joubert

Conservationists and distinguished experts have come together to work out a strategy. With the financial support of philanthropists, the Big Cats Initiative has already funded a series of grants to projects that  address the lion crisis in six African countries. Innivative ideas include assessments of big cat populations and movements, cordons and barriers to separate predators from livestock, and education.

Today’s blog post is the first for Nat Geo News Watch by a Big Cats Initiative grantee: Anne Kent Taylor. She writes about how she came to work on helping local people live with wild lions in Kenya, and how the Big Cats Initiative is helping fortify bomas, the traditional livestock enclosures, against predator attacks.

By Anne Kent Taylor

From the Field in Kenya’s Maasai Mara–In 1999 my life in Kenya’s Masai Mara, where I reside, changed forever.

It all started with Sir Francis Bacon–a wild, large, male warthog who became habituated to my presence. He would sleep (and snore!), outside my window and, early in the morning, he would visit me on my verandah to have a back and tummy rub. Until one fateful day, when he appeared with an arrow deeply embedded into his side–the work of poachers who must have thought he would make a tasty meal.

When I sought help for him from the reserve authorities, they arrived with a gun to shoot him, which, of course, was unacceptable. Fearing that Sir Francis was not the only animal to be suffering from man-inflicted wounds, I spent the next few weeks identifying many other animals with terrible injuries caused by snares, arrows or spears. This included elephants with trunks severed and legs cut to the bone, lions with snares around their necks and legs (causing one to chew off his toe), hyenas, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest and rhino. Snaring is indiscriminate and all wildlife is affected.

Rescuing injured animals

After much perseverance, and several weeks of time, I was able to orchestrate rescues for all these injured animals.

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Elephant rescue: Its leg almost severed by a wire snare.

Photo courtesy of Anne Kent Taylor

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Lame but alive. The leg will heal.

Photo courtesy of Anne Kent Taylor

 

(Over the course of the last several years we have removed snares, arrows and spears from all manner of wildlife–including a pregnant rhino who had a snare firmly embedded around her mouth and horn. Without our help, along with the Kenya Wildlife Service vet and Mara Conservancy rangers, she would have surely starved to death.)

As there had apparently been little effective patrolling in this area for many years, the poachers were operating with impunity, decimating our wildife. I realised I needed to act fast. I sought and received permission from the local member of Parliament to operate, in conjunction with the local authorities, de-snaring/anti-poaching patrols. I then had to learn how to do them effectively! My project was born!

I enlisted a team of wonderful young Maasai men from the local communities, with a team leader from Nairobi which allowed me to communicate on a regular basis and to get reports when I was out of the country. This was a very effective combination and we continue to this day to operate patrols, in conjunction with the local authorities, with our original team members. They are brave and are committed to saving their wildlife heritage for future generations, against heavy odds. I am grateful for all my supporters who have made this possible.

 

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Anti-poaching team, with Anne Kent Taylor in the top photo.

Photos courtesy of Anne K. Taylor Fund

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Students from local schools helped gather snares.

Photo courtesy of Anne Kent Taylor

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Anne Kent Taylor with a snare.

Photo courtesy of Anne Kent Taylor 

It is clear to me that no project can be successful without the full co-operation and support of the local communities. While the Maasai were not involved in the poaching, they had been tolerating the poachers who came from other areas of Kenya where the wildlife had already been eliminated.

Working with the Maasai

My team and I, therefore, started working closely with the Maasai communities offering conservation education and our support where needed (as defined by them) or requested. This work continues today and the community, in return, is totally supportive of our conservation efforts.

Our work includes building classrooms, toilet facilities, providing school text books, supplies, desks and sports equipment, field trips, community conservation education in the classrooms, and with the help of our mobile film unit, installing water tanks in schools (as the children walk several kilometers to and from school and traditionally have no food or water all day), starting a pilot school lunch program in two schools, a women’s beading project, supplementing the salaries of exceptional teachers to ensure they stay around, basic health and hygiene education, and a myriad of other projects within the project.

We also funded a major rabies and distemper program to vaccinate all the local Maasai dogs along the periphery of the Mara Reserve. There had been a major outbreak of the disease and we wanted to ensure that it did not spread into the wild population of carnivores, which could have decimated them. It also protected the local Maasai population from rabies as several children had already been bitten by rabid dogs and died as a result. This helped the people, the domestic dogs and the wildlife, which is always my aim.

Big Cats Initiative Grant

Grantee: Anne Kent Taylor

Project: Construction of predator proof livestock enclosures in prime big cat habitats in Kenya’s Maasai Mara region

Geographical Area Served: Africa\Kenya\Maasai Mara National Reserve

Field Work: 7/14/2010 – 7/11/2011

Project Description: Big cat populations in East Africa are crashing due to retaliatory killings by pastoralists. In the Maasai Mara, the problem threatens one of Africa’s most famous and important lion populations as pastoralists are increasingly intolerant of livestock predation. This project expands an existing successful project in the Mara that has effectively reduced human/lion conflict by preventing predation through securing livestock enclosures.

All blog posts by and about Anne Kent Taylor.

The project is always expanding as circumstances change. Thus, earlier this year I decided to tackle the complicated subject of livestock/predator conflict which is by no means a unique problem to Africa, with the wildlife almost always being the losers. I wanted to change this.

I, therefore, met with the local community chiefs and elders to discuss the way forward to prevent predation of their livestock and the resultant revenge killings of the predators–particularly lions and leopards–by poisoning or spearing. While they requested a compensation program for loss of livestock, which I would not have been able to afford or manage, I presented the possibility of fortifying existing livestock enclosures to prevent predation which would mean no loss of livestock and no untimely predator deaths.

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NGS stock photo of a lion in Kenya by Michael Nichols

This suggestion was received with enthusiasm. As the Maasai needed to be fully invested in this project for it to be successful, it was agreed that each livestock owner should be financially and physically involved with every aspect of the project. We thus split the cost of the chainlink and they are responsible for installing it.

In order to make this easier for them, I purchase the chainlink and deliver it to the closest point where it is to be used, as otherwise it would be logistically impossible for them to accomplish the task as they live in very remote areas. I started delivering wire the following week to the bomas which had suffered predation in order of severity per records we had been keeping. You cannot imagine their joy to be receiving this support and to know that we actually cared about their livestock losses.

“To date we have helped protect more than 70 livestock enclosures (“bomas”) with no further predation recorded, whereas prior to using the chainlink, each “boma” had suffered terrible losses to leopards, lions, hyenas and honey badgers.”

To date we have helped protect more than 70 livestock enclosures (“bomas”) with no further predation recorded, whereas prior to using the chainlink, each “boma” had suffered terrible losses to leopards, lions, hyenas and honey badgers.

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Unprotected sheep shed.

Photo courtesy of Anne Kent Taylor 

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Anne Kent Taylor’s car loaded with wire and water tanks.

Photo courtesy of Anne Kent Taylor 

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A wire-protected boma.

Photo courtesy of Anne Kent Taylor 

After the Maasai had erected the chainlink, one after another told me that they were FINALLY able to sleep at night without worrying about losing their livestock to predation. There was an outpouring of gratitude and goodwill for making this possible–and a clamour from so many more homesteads which need protection for their livestock. There is an endless list!

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Anne Kent Taylor with herdsman who lost 30 goats to predators.

Photo courtesy of Anne Kent Taylor 

In turn I want to let you know now how incredibly grateful I am for the support of the National Geographic Big Cats Initiative (NGBCI), which will allow me to protect many more bomas in a short space of time. Last month alone, we received reports of eight cows killed by lions in one boma; 28 sheep killed by leopard in another. A further 30 goats were killed a week ago by a leopard–all were in unprotected “bomas”.

“The Maasai cannot afford, and will no longer tolerate, the huge livestock losses incurred by predation and the carnivores would suffer if it were not for our help.”

Unless action is taken those predators will undoubtedly be doomed. The Maasai know, however, that I will act quickly and fortify their bomas to avoid further losses and they, in turn, will spare the predators. The Maasai cannot afford, and will no longer tolerate, the huge livestock losses incurred by predation and the carnivores would suffer if it were not for our help.

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A traditional boma, unprotected.

Photo courtesy of Anne Kent Taylor 

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Anne Kent Taylor with a boma protected by wire fence.

Photo courtesy of Anne Kent Taylor  

By preventing predation, we can rest assured that we are saving the carnivores from a sure and terrible death. We cannot afford to lose even a single one as their very survival is threatened. The extinction of lions in a few short years is a distinct possibility, but I am confident that our combined efforts will ensure their future.

Conflict can become worse

With the imminent division, by government order, of the traditional group ranches into individual small holdings, the conflict can only become worse. The human population will become static; there is no zoning or land management plan, which will result in increased fencing, cultivation and other ventures which will further increase pressure on the wildlife. This makes our work even more important as predation will surely ensue.

“We are very happy to share our knowledge with anyone who may be interested as it might be our one and only chance to save the lions from almost certain extinction.”

I am excited to let you know that there is some great news–many individuals and organizations are hearing about the success of our work and are requesting permission to come and visit our “boma” project so that they may introduce it in other areas of Kenya, which will certainly help to protect the lions, particularly, in those hard-hit areas where aggression towards carnivores is at its peak. We are very happy to share our knowledge with anyone who may be interested as it might be our one and only chance to save the lions from almost certain extinction.

I starting visiting the Mara in recent days to inspect all the bomas which have recently been completed. Once this has been done, I will start Phase IV of the boma fortification project with the funding so kindly granted by NGBCI. I have already ordered 200 rolls of chainlink which will enable me to immediately start protecting many more bomas, which are currently suffering from extreme predation.

I sincerely thank National Geographic Big Cats Initiative for enabling me to help protect the Maasai’s livestock to ensure that the Maasai landowners, whose very existence depends on their livestock, will have no reason to kill the predators. I am so proud to be associated with the NGBCI and I look forward to Stuart Pimm’s visit at the end of the month.

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Anne Kent Taylor with Maasai children at Oloomongi, courtesy of Anne K. Taylor Fund

Anne Kent Taylor’s July/August 2010 field report:

Part One: Saving Africa’s last wild lions by fencing them out (July 23, 2010)

Part Two: Fences make predators more tolerable to Kenya farmers (July 25, 2010)

Part Three: Good fences make good neighbors of Kenya’s lions and herders (August 16, 2010) 

Anne Kent Taylor grew up in Kenya. In 1988 she incorporated her own company, A.K. Taylor International, to share her love of travel with friends and clients. She created the Anne K. Taylor Fund to encourage and assist individuals, communities and corporations to conserve, protect and restore biodiversity through sound economic activities that are ecologically sustainable.

Learn more about the National Geographic Big Cats Initiative

How to apply for a Big Cats Initiative grant

Donate to the Big Cats Initiative

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Comments

  1. greg fietz
    australia
    September 22, 7:31 pm

    The lions are sure to disappear from the face of the planet if our world leaders do not all begin to discuss ways to curb the World Wide Human Plague. Why is the cause of the worlds animals problem not mentioned more. We are all the problem.