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On the Conservation Frontline in Africa’s Big Cat Country

National Geographic Big Cats Initiative grantee Anne Kent Taylor sent another dispatch from the field in Kenya’s Maasai Mara region. Her account details life among Africa’s wild big cats and the growing conflict between humans and animals competing for the same resources.

Anne Kent Taylor’s National Geographic grant supports her work in providing chainlink fencing to herders, helping keep predators and livestock apart. When she’s not doing that, she’s working with local communities to build schools, feed children, and helping people learn about conservation and the importance of protecting their wildlife heritage.

By Anne Kent Taylor

From the Field in Kenya’s Maasai Mara–It has been a busy few days welcoming our friends and safari guests to Kenya’s Maasai Mara and continuing with the Anne K. Taylor Fund fieldwork.

Additionally, I have so enjoyed introducing my 15-month-old grandson to the wonders of Kenya, its people and its wildlife. At first light, he rushes out of his room, arms flailing to “chase away” the warthogs and monkeys from our front verandah — they, however, have little respect for him and continue on with their lives — the males “chortling” like diesel engines as they follow an attractive (to them!) female; the monkeys leap, with amazing agility and a lot of noise, from our roof to the overhead branches!

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.

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The slender mongoose and four beautiful genet cats also pay him no heed as they go about their daily lives, which includes exploring the environs of my house. The silvery greater galagos have decided that my verandah is the place to perch at night — and they are not quiet so sleep is elusive!

We have, regrettably, been unsuccessful in live-trapping the leopard with the snare attached to its leg — it has been seen, has taken a bushbuck, a dog and another goat, but is clearly too “wily” to enter the live trap.

The trap is needed elsewhere so it has been temporarily removed by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), but they will keep trying.

In the meantime, there were two serious reports of lion predation in unprotected bomas — a lone male who has taken eight cows from one Maasai boma and two from another. I spoke with the KWS warden and they will attempt to live-trap him and a leopard which is causing havoc in another community.

Leopard Attack on Child

A five-year-old student from the Oloomongi School, which is one of the schools that AKTF supports, was protecting his goats from a leopard attack, in the daytime whilst grazing in a remote area, when it turned on him.

Miraculously, he survived the attack with deep bites to the back of the head and claw marks on his back. A doctor friend of mine who was on safari with us at the time, Heidi Duncan, from The Billings Clinic, Montana, checked out the wound and was happy — and amazed — that is was healing so well. She added some antibiotic cream and changed the bandage and the child does not seem to be suffering any ill effects of the attack . Indeed he has a huge smile on his face and has found a special place in my heart — what a brave little boy and how lucky he was not to be killed or maimed further.

I have also reported this attack to the KWS and they will try to entrap this leopard — not the same one which was caught in the snare — and relocate it to a less populated area.

You can see that there are multiple challenges, almost daily, facing the communities which live with the wild animals, with sometimes serious and deadly consequences. It also makes our conservation work challenging.

Big-Cats-Initative.jpg

The AKTF/CFTW team has been actively patrolling — during a recent joint patrol with the Mara Conservancy rangers they removed 17 deadly heavy duty snares designed to entrap elephants, buffalo, hippo and anything else that might wander into them. They were thankfully removed before doing their dreadful damage.

After an investigation, and night patrol, the team, along with the authorities, arrested a young girl in a local village who has been working closely with the poachers and selling large quantities of bushmeat — in this case eland and impala, the dried meat of which was found in her house.

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Photo compilation courtesy of Beverly and Dereck Joubert

She is now in custody so I hope that she will get a sentence strong enough to deter others who might be so inclined. Her arrest led to one other person being arrested — the others were probably alerted by cell phone that there was an ambush awaiting them. Our team leader is currently checking with the authorities to see what the consequence of her involvement with the poachers will be.

Of great concern is the fact that we came across the body of a pregnant zebra mare, killed by a poison arrow. It was too awful for words — as we turned her over to look for the arrow, the gases escaped from her body and out popped her fetus. This image will be with me for a long time — such a waste of life, no, two lives.

The rest of her family were standing nearby, presumably waiting for her to “wake up,” so she was probably killed a short while before we got there.

No meat was taken, so the supposition is that the young Masai men tending their cattle are using the wild animals for target practice and to test the strength of their poison arrows.

We reported this incident, sadly one of many, to the Chief of the area, and the conservation authorities, and the investigation as to who the culprits are is ongoing.

We also came across a large cheetah which had strayed from the park and was surrounded by livestock and people — presumably waiting for an opportunistic meal of a succulent goat or sheep, which would have been a death sentence for the big cat.

Fortunately for all concerned (except the unfortunate animal!), an impala appeared and the cheetah’s appetite was satisfied. We then drove the big cat back into the Reserve with the hope that it will stay there and not venture into community lands again any time soon.

The poachers’ camps which we re-visited showed no recent activity which is encouraging.

Carol Kiugo, from Insta Products, along with Tabitha, a volunteer from Nairobi, joined us in delivering food to the children of the small school where we offer a school lunch program. They also dewormed the children so that the food will have the maximum impact in improving the children’s health. This is a very popular program and the school enrollment has increased from an original 30+ children to 120. I am sure this number will continue to increase.

Charcoal-burning continues to threaten the forests as this has become a very lucrative business. The charcoal-burners are usually people who have recently moved in to the greater Mara area and have no interest in preserving the environment or its animals. The hope is that the Maasai will become more proactive in protecting their land before it is too late, otherwise the future looks bleak.

We will soon be delivering a further 100 rolls of chain link wire to the Mara North Conservancy to protect more livestock enclosures against predation. The Maasai livestock owners are clamouring for the chainlink, which we use to fortify existing bomas.

Predation is increasing due to the burgeoning population and the resultant lack of habitat, and grazing land, which is causing more human/wildlife conflict.

The Maasai are fully invested in this project and buy one roll of chainlink for each one I give to them. To date the bomas have been 100 percent effective in preventing predation. Long may that last as it makes both the livestock and the predators safer. I am so grateful to National Geographic Big Cats Initiative for their belief in, and support of, this project.

That is it for now, but surely there will be more to come! The network connection is regrettably too weak to allow me to send photos with this update … I will try to post some later.

Anne

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.

Learn more about the National Geographic Big Cats Initiative

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