Living with wildlife

3 Kenyan schoolchildren walk across a pasture where zebras and cattle graze

The International Climate Initiative (IKI) supports Massai households in Kenya to save their livelyhoods against wild animals.

What is it like to live with wildlife that can kill your livestock or even attack members of your family? In Germany, a heated discussion has started on whether we can share our densely populated country with more than a thousand wolves. But what do people say that live in close vicinity to a much larger number of potentially dangerous animals?

It is everyday life for Maasai communities that inhabit more than 20 private and community conservation areas surrounding the Maasai Mara National Reserve. The size of these conservancies adds up to 160.000 hectares, more than doubling that of the national reserve – and providing indispensable space for a great number of wildlife species.

The downside is more than 10 people were killed, mainly in incidents with elephants, buffalos or crocodiles, and over 300 cattle, sheep, and goats that fell victim to lions, leopards, and hyenas. These are the figures of just one year as reported by a senior warden of Kenya Wildlife Service in Narok County.  Those who incur the damage are liable for compensation, but filing the claims is still a very tedious process.

Scare predator away with deterrent lamps

Solar-powered flashing defence lamp against predators
Automatic lights are charged by solar energy and flash throughout the night. This deters predators.

Similar experiences were made by Maasai households in Nyekweri Kimintet. Workshops organized in the framework of the IKI project ‘Protection of Nyekweri Forest by local communities, Trans Mara Subcounty, Kenya’ in the designated conservancy helped to improve the cooperation of the local community with government agencies considerably. Representatives of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) as well as the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) discussed increasing human-wildlife conflicts and ways to mitigate them.

An important step to prevent lion and hyena attacks on livestock is the provision of predator deterrent lights. These are automatic lights charged by small solar panels installed at strategic points identified by the rangers. When charged during the day, the light will flash continuously all night long. This gives the impression of a person walking around with a torch and helps to keep predators at a distance. The battery lights have a three to four-year lifespan and are constructed to be resistant to elements of weather.

With IKI support, 32 of these devices were handed out to local households. After having installed them next to livestock enclosures, they have reportedly helped to reduce attacks considerably. The positive experience has led to increased demand by neighbouring households.

Protecting bees from the honey badger

A wooden house secured with wire.
Beehives in bee houses are protected from attack by honey badgers.

Living with wildlife is a daily challenge for people living in a conservancy. Children learn how to react when they encounter elephants on their way to school. The Maasai now have small gardens as alternative livelihoods. They need to be well protected if you don’t want baboons to eat your tubers or vegetables. And then there is another animal causing problems: the honey badger. Despite its name, this mustelid is not closely related to other badger species. It is widely distributed over all of Sub-Saharan Africa and its thick skin not only protects it against predators but also the sting of bees.

Honey badgers raid beehives both in search of larvae and honey. African beekeepers have adapted to this by hanging their beehives into trees. This helps, but it is an obstacle when trying to increase honey production as a sustainable way of earning money while protecting forests.

As an alternative, with IKI support a bee house was constructed that offers space for over 40 bee hives and provides protection against the raids of honey badgers. Several workshops attracted a lot of attention from community members. Most of them already had experience with keeping bees in traditional log hives and were keen on changing to higher production in modern hives.

Catcher boxes were brought to the forest. Once bees start to breed in them, they are brought to the bee house where they are resettled into modern bee hives. To provide food for the bees, four types of indigenous trees were planted on the compound.

The results are promising although it took longer than expected to attract the bees and there still seem to be problems with the fact that livestock is grazing in the vicinity of the bee house.

These examples show that there are a lot of problems when living with wildlife. They need to be taken seriously. Then there is a chance that problems may be regarded as challenges – and that these challenges may be overcome.

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