This week has seen an already suppressed demon of human-wildlife conflict throw a few kicks in the Mara. The larger Serengeti ecosystem is no stranger to this. It’s been a while since the last serious case of lions getting killed by members of a local community happened in the region. January, 2015, in Tarangire seven lions were killed by angry Maasai herders. The lions had actually attacked their livestock. Tanzanian government authorities were angered by the incident and had two herders arrested. Then, cases of human-wildlife conflict were high in Tarangire, to an extent of locals having to form vigilante groups.
Crossing borders to Kenya, on 6th December, Sunday morning, news emerged that members of the Marsh Pride had succumbed to poisoning in the Maasai Mara. The Marsh Pride is famous from the TV Series Big Cat Diaries. The poisoning is said to have occurred after the lions allegedly killed cattle that had been grazing in the reserve. The herders are said to have laced the dead cows with poison, and offered them back to the lions, instituting a deadly chain reaction that extended to scavengers that fed on carcasses of the poisoned lions.( Images source: Paula Kahumbu’s post on facebook, 8th Dec 2015 )One of the dead Marsh Pride Members
Two herders alleged to have carried out the act have already been aligned in court and are now in remand awaiting completion of the investigation. A third suspect has been identified as a key witness by the prosecution. If found guilty they could get a life imprisonment or get a fine of up to USD $200,000. Currently, section 92 of the 2013 Wildlife Act suggests a fine of KSH.20,000,000 or life imprisonment.
This incident has received a lot of backlash from many conservationists terming it as a major setback to conservation of endangered species and at the same time calling for a maximum penalty for the suspects if found guilty. Lion numbers globally are dwindling at high rates. Statistics indicate, lions have vanished from over 80 percent of their historic range and currently exist in 28 countries in Africa and one country in Asia (India). They are extinct in 26 countries. Only 7 countries: Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe are believed to each contain more than 1,000 lions. National Geographic sources indicate that, by the year 2009, lions were found in the wild in only two places on earth.
About 100,000 lions survived in Africa south of the Sahara Desert. Another 300 lions, called Asian lions, lived in a reserve called the Gīr National Park and Lion Sanctuary in northwest India. Currently, the number might be slightly higher or relatively similar to the latter figures.
It’s every stakeholder’s responsibility to ensure proper co-existence and reduction of human-wildlife conflict cases in the Maasai Mara. Some of these stakeholders have often taken hardliner stances. If asked, I would put the highest blame on the management of the reserve. The death of these members of the Marsh Pride should be a wake-up call. Its high time laws and rules got enforced. Cows have to be kept out of the reserve. What do you expect when a lion meets a cow?..lovey dovies!? At the same time, sensitization has to be carried out and a transparent revenue sharing model put in place so that the entire Maasai Community in Narok sees or rather feels the benefits of the reserve. We must not forget that a great number of Maasais are involved in conservation. Only some quarters claim to have never seen the benefits of conservation and tourism from the fact that they are denied pasture for livestock even in dry periods. Some have cited harassment and illegal detection of herders and their livestock by game rangers. But that would be somehow necessary if this picture is to go by. I have seen this myself in the Mara on several occasions.
Honestly, I am left bewildered, wondering…Is it that there has been some reluctance in sensitizing communities on the benefits of conserving our game-cum-heritage? or Have we humans of Maasai Mara become too righteous to admit that…we are too mean by the fact that we think that wild animals don’t deserve space? ( We have not only taken over almost all their migratory corridors and habitats, but have now started taking their lives too!) The truth is,.. This is purely general-ignorance and a sense of invincibility at play in the Mara. Where by a bunch of inconsiderate fellas decide to poison lions thinking that they can’t be caught, and if caught up with, they will have their fellow kinsmen demonstrate on the streets as their political leaders haul all manner of threats in the press to have them released. We should boldly call those Thugs and not Maasais. Maasais are conservationists by nature.