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Hyenas Bounce Off Fence Protecting African Livestock

Anne Kent Taylor continues her reports from the field in Kenya, where she and local collaborators have been providing chainlink fencing to farmers to shield their cattle, goats and other animals from big predators. In the face of “horrific” predation of livestock, the fencing program has been achieving very encouraging results. One farmer reported watching a pack of bemused hyenas charging his herd by moonlight, only to be repelled a number of times by the “invisible” wire barrier.

The fences may be effective in keeping lions, leopards, and hyenas at bay, but now farmers are also learning that if they are planted deep enough they can also thwart honey badgers trying to dig their way into the livestock enclosures.

Anne Kent Taylor’s work in Africa is supported in part by the National Geographic Society’s Big Cats Initiative, part of an effort by the Society and its supporters to help restore and protect wild lions in their traditional habitats by finding ways to reduce the conflict between big cats and people.

By Anne Kent Taylor

From the Field in Kenya’s Maasai Mara–I write now as I watch four beautiful genet cats weaving back and forth on my “lawn” becoming ever braver as they come up on to my verandah to play — the morning finds tablecloths on the floor and rugs upside down!

It was an active day today with the team being split into two so that we could achieve all our objectives. The AKTF team was joined by Enoch Mobisa from Nairobi who is helping us with our “boma” data collection and mapping — some of which I wish I had not heard.

The news I heard makes our mission of “boma” fortification absolutely critical and immediate action must be taken to prevent further predation.

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.

Felix Munyao helped us out by taking my car with Enoch, team member Kilonga and a couple of rangers over to the Mara North Conservancy where we have provided 100 rolls of chain link, made possible by National Geographic Big Cats Initiative.

Yesterday they covered 15 bomas and today a further 16, with more yet to come. The local Masai communities are suffering terrible losses to predation and, again, I am happy to report that none of the protected bomas have been penetrated by predators, making the livestock owners relieved and happy.

This has made such an impact that individuals have seen the efficacy of these bomas and have actually purchased, and installed, their own wire for immediate protection.

The statistics, and descriptions, of predation are horrific — one boma, in one “raid” lost 60 goats and sheep to hyena, along with 7 cows to lion; a second “boma” lost 30 goats to leopard and hyena; another 5 sheep to hyena; another, 35 goats to hyena — and so it goes on.

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A boma fenced by the Anne K Taylor Fund, with the support of the National Geographic Society.

Photo by and courtesy of John-Paul Teutonico Photography.

The most interesting discovery was that the Masai in this area had found their sheep and goats mutilated but had no idea how it happened. We have previously discovered that this damage is done by honey badgers which dig under the unprotected livestock enclosures to enter the goat/sheep pens — they proceed to attack all the soft body parts of the animals and the damage is horrendous to see.

In some cases, the erected fences are going to have to be removed and redone, as they had not buried the chainlink 2 feet deep, which is a necessity to keep the honey badgers out. They were very happy for this advice and knowing which animal was causing such damage.

The team met with co-operation and interest every place they went.

Hyena Embarrassment

Apart from the horror stories of predation, there is one funny anecdote. On one full moon night, hyenas spotted goats and sheep in what they thought was an open field. They went to attack them at high speed and hit the chainlink, which they had not seen. They bounced off, fell down and, slightly blurry, they shook themselves and tried again, only to be rebuffed once more by the wire! I expect they will now think twice about full on attacks to avoid further embarrassing situations!

Hyena photo 5.jpg

NGS stock photo of hyena by Chris Johns

I went with the other team members, Elias Kamande, our team leader, Ole Saitoti, and Ole Kamaro, accompanied by Mara Conservancy rangers Simon Tankile and Solomon to take guests to visit the Oloomongi School, a school we have supported from the start and where we have a school lunch program. I am happy to report the children all looked healthy and happy — the Insta porridge makes such a huge difference to their wellbeing.

After this we visited Ole Saitoti’s boma where he installed a very effective chainlink fence, inside which he planted a prickly kai apple hedge, which he braids (almost cutting his hand off in the process) to make it completely impermeable. Inside that, there is the original wooden fence, which, alone, did not prevent predation. Prior to this extra protection he suffered severe predation of his cattle from lions and his sheep and goats from leopards — since installing the chainlink there has been no further predation.

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Photo by and courtesy of John-Paul Teutonico Photography.

We stopped for a picnic lunch on rocks high above the Mara plains — only to hear shouts from below. Several thousand feet beneath us, a drama was playing out. Masai herdmen had just lost a calf to a leopard , which they frightened off. The team immediately found a way down the cliff face to take the report, photograph the unfortunate calf and to tell the herdsmen they were illegally in the Reserve and had better leave post-haste.

Big-Cats-Initative.jpg

I am glad for the rangers’ and team’s presence as I fear that without it the herdsmen may have tried to take revenge on the leopard. As it was, they instead settled down to feed on the dead calf as their herd was escorted out of the Reserve.

We still have not managed to live-trap the leopard, which was caught in a spring snare months ago, when Dr. Asuka Takita attempted a rescue. It broke away from the snare but part of the trap is still attached to its leg. The big cat has recently been raiding sheep and goats from a boma near the forest.

Click here to find out more about the Big Cats Intiative.

Photo compilation courtesy of Beverly and Dereck Joubert

The owner of this boma is co-operating with us and putting a live goat into the trap each night in the hopes of capturing the leopard. If we are successful in trapping it, we would call in Dr. Mijele to remove the snare and release the leopard. The goat is quite safe as it is in a separate compartment, although I am sure if the leopard does get trapped its heart will be racing — as will mine!

On this note, it was reported to the team that a three-legged lion has been spotted (apparently having lost the fourth to a hippo, but I am wondering if it was not to a snare — a more likely scenario) and a zebra with its hoof in a tin can — obviously picked up in a rubbish dump which many camps are not diligent in covering. I will talk to Dr. Dominick Mijele and discuss a plan of action with him. It will be hard to find the zebra again, I am sure, as they can travel in large herds.

Tomorrow should see the final tally on the protected bomas and it will be most interesting to study the data collected. Until next time…

Anne Kent Taylor was born and raised in East Africa. Several months a year she resides in the Maasai Mara. During four decades working in the safari business, she has seen growing pressures on wildlife. With the increase of human settlements around the Mara reserve, predator-livestock conflicts have grown in the Maasai bomas (traditional enclosures). Through partnership with the Maasai in community projects and fortifying existing bomas with simple methods of natural and wire fencing, the Anne K Taylor Fund has had a 100 percent success rate at preventing livestock predation and the resultant revenge killings of predators. Anne’s conservation team includes Maasai members who help educate their community to become the protectors of their own wildlife heritage.

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