National Geographic Big Cats Initiative grantee Anne Kent Taylor sent another report from the field in Kenya this weekend. She writes about how fencing livestock enclosures with wire barriers has deterred not only the big cats–lions and leopards–from raiding domestic animals, but have also been an effective defence against honey badgers, which Taylor had not realized were also regularly attacking livestock.
Taylor has been using funding from the Big Cats Initiative to provide wire fencing to Kenya’s Maasai herders, on the basis that if wild animals can be kept away from cattle and goats the farmers will have less incentive to kill marauding lions and other predators. Her project has so far reported 100 percent success in keeping predators at bay. Now will it also prove effective in stopping humans killing predators? In a land where poaching of wild animals is rampant, that remains to be seen.
By Anne Kent Taylor
From the field in Kenya’s Maasai Mara–My time in the Mara has, once again, been active, interesting and, at times, upsetting. An exciting, and first ever, sighting by Joseph Koyie, (a guide from Olonana Tented Camp and very avid supporter of AKTF) was of a honey badger — they are nocturnal, mean and elusive!
When I started fortifying Masai livestock enclosures (“bomas”),with generous support from National Geographic Big Cats Initiative, to protect the livestock from predators, I had no idea that honey badgers could cause any damage, only to discover they cause untold damage, particularly to sheep and goats.
They attack livestock in the most brutal manner, injuring many at a given time. When fortifying the livestock enclosures, we bury the chainlink fence two feet below the ground to prevent the honey badgers from digging under the fence to attack the livestock. I would like to think that, as they can no longer access these protected bomas, they have had to return to the Mara Reserve where they belong and can eat a natural diet — excluding sheep and goats! Perhaps this is wishful thinking, and makes a good story, but who knows!
We had the pleasure of welcoming a film crew from France who are interested in the work of our desnaring team. We did a spirited patrol (along with the authorities) deep in the forest on top of the Oloololo escarpment, to visit previously detected poachers’ camps.
While we fortunately found no recent activity in these camps, it was sad to see the damage the poachers had caused. We found numerous bones, killing sticks and empty warthog holes, as they had all been hunted and killed. Poachers block the entrance to these holes and then dig from above. Once the burrow, and warthog, is visible the warthog is killed with spears or heavy killing sticks. We saw numerous holes all telling the same story. Poor unfortunate warthogs.
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We received a recent report of a giraffe which has a wire snare still attached, but we have been unable to locate it again. The team also found a buffalo which had been killed by poachers, using large groups of hunting dogs, in the Nyakwere forest. These poachers have not yet been apprehended, but the search will continue.
Tragically, we also found another dead zebra, killed by poachers, who hamstrung her — the meat was left intact. dd this to the pregnant zebra mare we found last week which was used for target practice with no meat taken. We believe this animal was used for target practice and to test the strength of poison used on the arrow tips, which is a depressing development.
I have brought these two incidents to the attention of the local Chief and the authorities and we will work hard to stop this terrible practice. We have also spoken to the young groups of Masai warriors in this area so that they can try to prevent any further incidents such as these.
We delivered more text books and Insta porridge, used in the school lunch program, to the Oloomongi school. The children, parents and school committee were most appreciative and gave us a stirring welcome. I had the opportunity to check on the 5-year-old child, who was attacked by a leopard whilst herding, and protecting, his goats, and I am happy to report his wounds have almost completely healed and his bandage has been removed. His spirit is quite amazing and his grin infectious. I think, under similar circumstances, I would be traumatised for life!
Today I spoke with the Kenya Wildlife Service warden in charge of this area and tomorrow he will organize for a live trap to be set for this leopard which, last night, also killed a calf in the same area. If this is successful, the leopard will be relocated to a less populated area, otherwise it can certainly cause more damage and in return will most likely be killed by the local community.
We delivered a further 100 rolls of wire, primarily to the Mara North Conservancy, with 24 rolls being delivered to the communities in the Transmara. These wires were “snapped up” almost before they hit the ground, with the Maasai livestock owners clamouring for them.
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.
The success of the “fortified bomas” has spread far and wide and we are challenged to keep up with the demand. Indeed, we were being stopped by Maasai livestock owners throughout the area, with money in hand wanting to purchase the chainlink and to be part of this boma protection initiative.
We will continue to “take names” and offer assistance as funding allows. I am most grateful to National Geographic Big Cats Initiative and other generous supporters who believe in this project and who have supported us so generously. I have no doubt that this initiative will help to protect the lions and other predators from retaliatory killings and may even ensure their very survival.
Thanks to all who help us to achieve our objectives of keeping the livestock and the predators safer. For those who are unfamiliar with this project, we offer assistance to the Maasai to protect their bomas by installing 8-foot chainlink fence around existing livestock enclosures. These fences prevent predation and the resultant retaliatory killings of the predators, which will perhaps make a difference to the very survival of lions which are so severely threatened.
The Maasai themselves are active partners in this project, sharing the cost of the chainlink and providing the labor and any other building materials used to fortify their bomas. To date these protected bomas have been 100 percent successful in preventing predation and the Maasai tell me that they can now sleep at night without worrying about their cattle, sheep or goats being killed.
I started this “blog” in the Mara and I am now back in Nairobi after a grueling 7+ hour bone-crunching drive! I leave again for the Mara on Monday for further project work and to welcome guests to the Mara, one of the richest wildlife areas in the world. The Anne K. Taylor Fund team and I will do our very utmost to keep it so.
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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