Predator attacks on livestock continue at a high level, despite the increase in wildlife numbers showing up in the ecological monitoring. This suggests that carnivore stock-killing is becoming habitual when wild prey availability should see attacks falling. The reasons likely stem from the loss of herding skills and knowhow in dealing with predators, resulting in the loss of hundreds of straying animals. Five lions have been speared in the Amboseli area in 2016, the highest in several years. The spearing, reported by Lion Guardians at the Human Wildlife Conflict (HWC) group, point to the anger communities feel about the failure of compensation payments, the slow response to conflict incidents, and warriors building up for an age-set ceremony shortly.
Crop depredations by elephants are also at an all-time high. Human deaths due to wildlife attacks have caused several riots in the Amboseli region this year. The same underlying causes of anger over lion depredations are fueling angst over elephant crop raiding, made worse by the loss of human life. Elephants have made ten fatal attacks on people in the Amboseli area this year. The lax responses to the attacks, added to the lack of compensation, has turned a bad situation serious. In one incident a few weeks ago, the body of a victim lay unattended by government officials for three days and was eaten by lions, hyenas and a leopard. The community took up spears in retaliation and KWS was forced to kill an innocent elephant in reprisal. The killing of innocent elephants is making docile elephants skittish and dangerous, according to Cynthia Moss.
As reported at the launch of the Nongotiak centre in March, the anger and frustrations of the community and the governor of Kajiado, Dr. David Nkedianye, boiled up over the elephant and lion attacks and was directed at the new KWS Director General, Katili Mbathi. The meeting gave the DG a window onto the challenges facing KWS as the elephant poaching crisis subsides. The bigger longer-term challenges lie in finding space and a place for wildlife beyond parks--and beyond the conservancies--which have been the focus of KWS attention outside parks in the last few years.
A number of developments are underway in Amboseli to address the threats.
Big Life has taken a lead in tackling the depredations of elephants on small-scale farms on the slopes of Kilimanjaro and swamps east of Amboseli. Assisted by Space for Giants, Big Life has drawn up a fencing plan to secure the farms from elephant attacks. The 45 kilometer fence should alleviate most of the depredations on the farms south and east of Amboseli, areas elephants rarely used before farmers moved in. Most elephants moved north and west of Amboseli with the rains. These areas remain lightly used and could, with the restoration of seasonal dams, reintroduce elephants to their former range.
To address the broader human-wildlife conflict, Lion Guardians, Amboseli Trust for Elephants, Big Life, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, ACC and ACP have set up a HWC mitigation group under the umbrella of the Amboseli Ecosystem Trust. The inaugural meeting was held in March, the first fully-constituted meeting on December 7th 2016
The December meeting was chaired by Jeremy Goss of Big Life and attended by the warden and KWS Assistant Director, Southern, Daniel Onsembe, Benson Laiyan of AET, Daniel Lolterish, chairman of Ololorashi Ogulului Group Ranch, Jackson Mwato, the Kajiado County Wildlife Compensation Committee chairman, Johnson Sipitiek of ACC, community representative, Cynthia and staff of the Amboseli Elephant Trust, Leela Hadza and staff of Lion Guardians, Craig Miller, head of security for Big Life, and IFAW representatives. The main item on the agenda was the growing elephant and lion conflict.
The community members reiterated that the biggest cause of anger and reprisals was the lack of response after an elephant attack on farmers and herders. The warden reported that the only person who can authorize the killing of an elephant, however imminent the threat, is the Director General of KWS. The long delays inevitably mean the elephant has fled the scene even if action is granted. The upshot is that warriors take up spears and kill any elephants in the neighborhood, or KWS ends up killing the wrong elephant to placate the community when authority is granted.
Daniel Onsembe, Assistant KWS director, joined in the lengthy discussions about the place of dialogue and enforcement in addressing the conflict. After the last lion killing, the warden got the community to fine the warriors in the traditional manner and no lions have been killed since. The warden referred to the bible in one hand and the gun in the other duality of KWS wardens. The bible has proved more effective than the gun, particularly with the Maasai.
Onsembe supported the Warden’s view and said dialogue should be the first KWS response, arrest only when dialogue fails. He noted that KWS doesn’t have the money or manpower to solve the wide-spread conflicts. The best thing going for resolving the conflict is the “Parks Beyond Parks” movement and conservancies, which put wildlife management into the hand of communities and brings in NGOs in as partners. Johnson Sipitiek, chairman of the Narok County Wildlife Compensation Committee, added that KWS and the Ministry have lost credibility because no compensation for human deaths has been paid in two years and the claims now run at $29 million a year.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the HWC meeting set up a small group, including ATE, Lion Guardians, Big Life, AET and KWS, to propose rapid response protocols. The Amboseli warden will push the protocols with KWS DG, aimed at devolving HWC responses to approved teams that can act promptly after an attack. ACC will also launch a youth education fund in January, directed largely at young warriors, in memory of one of their most ardent conservation advocates who died recently. AET will set up small groups of warriors on each ranch to join the rapid response group attending victims of attacks.
The research and conservation groups agreed on setting up a HWC database with the assistance of ACP. The database will include a deep layer dealing with the long-term and seasonal pressures at the root of conflict—the supply side information--and a top layer dealing with the rapid response information, the demand side of conflict mitigation. The protocol will be presented at the BCI workshop in February for wider discussion and adoption across southern Kenya.