Kenya: Lion-Proof Homes to Save King of the Jungle From Herders’ Spears

by Jun 16, 2011Big Cats

Nairobi — Moloimet ole Teketi, 53, wishes he could sleep through the night. He cannot. He has to keep watch lest the “devils” strike.

His neighbour, Mr Nangonyeek ole Noomek, 65, sleeps like a baby. He has already dealt with the “devils” — the lions of the Amboseli National Park.

But it was until just recently when Mr Noomek of Ngiito village in Loitoktok District, and his two sons, could go to bed “in peace like other people”.

Then, they had been forced to stay awake through the night to watch over their livestock lest the marauding lions of the Amboseli make a feast out of them and deny them their only livelihood.

In fact, in the process, his sons Leyee Saroni and Nais Noomek killed two lions each. They would have killed more had they still posed a threat to their dwindling livestock numbers.

Not that the two “lion killers” take pride is doing so. If anything, they know it is a crime to kill wildlife. But in this case, they say they have no option.

“I have killed two lions in the last two years. My brother, too, has killed a similar number. You cannot sleep while lions destroy your wealth. So we spear them and poison others,” said Mr Saroni.

May be wiped out

According to Mr Richard Chepkwony, the park’s senior deputy warden, 23 lions have been killed in the park in the last two years due to human-wildlife conflict.

“There were over 50 lions in the Amboseli National Park two years ago, but the number has gone down significantly. Now there are only about 20. If this continues, the remaining lions may be wiped out,” said Mr Chepkwony.

However, in a bid to reduce the conflict and save the king of the jungle, conservationists have designed Lion-Proof Bomas to keep the herders’ animals out of harm’s way.

According to Mr Noomek, the bomas, fenced with strong two-metre high eucalyptus posts, triple-twisted chain link wires and simple flattened drums for doors, are a godsend, keeping their animals safe from the lions and other predators. Spiny bushes of commiphora and acacia are heaped on both sides of the chain link fence to further ward off the carnivores.

“Nowadays I sleep all night, I don’t worry that lions will attack and make a feast of my animals,” he adds.

Mr Iregi Mwenja of Born Free, one of the organisations behind the project, said the Lion-Proof Bomas have significantly reduced cases of human-wildlife conflict in the area.

Mr Mwencha said the bomas, which can also keep out hyenas and other big cats, can accommodate up to 800 head of cattle and 400 sheep or goats. They measure about two acres in size.

The bomas are currently being built in parts of the country that experience rampant human-wildlife conflict.

“This is a timely intervention that could see the end to the decades-long conflict, while also ensuring the restoration of lion numbers,” said Mr Mwenja, who is the country manager of Born Free.

Mr Teketi, who said he recently rescued his goat from the jaws of a lion, admitted that he envied his neighbour who could sleep all night without worrying about the safety of his livestock.

Keep watch in turns

“We have to keep watch in turns at the Manyatta. Three weeks ago, we rescued a goat from the jaws of a lion. It later died, but at least we ate its meat,” said MrTeketi, adding that the lions were giving them sleepless nights.

According to Mr John Maringa, the chairman of the Predators Consolidation Fund, cases of lions attacking and causing mayhem in the areas around the Amboseli National Park had reduced significantly especially in manyattas with the enhanced bomas.

Mr Maringa said manyattas that have benefited from the bomas have, for the last six months, not registered any attacks on their livestock.

“Previously, a lion would kill a goat every night because it could easily break into the sheds, but since December we have not registered any attacks,” he said.

As an official of the Olgulului Ranch, a 12,000-member group, Mr Maringa said the 16 bomas in Amboseli had been of significant help to his members.

And Mr Chepkwony added that the bomas had enabled communities around the park to live harmoniously with the wild animals because they no longer saw them as a threat to their livestock.

“It is a win-win situation. Minimising predation on livestock means that local communities are more secure and do not feel the need to take revenge following attacks,” said the senior deputy warden.

Mr Mwenja said the initiative has eased the resentment that the herders had for the lions and other predators.

“The villagers are telling us that the bomas have eased their worries. They are now encouraging us to help see to it that every homestead gets a boma,” he adds.

According to Mr Enoch Mobisa, Ann Kent Taylor Fund programme manager and Wildlifedirect associate researcher, the results of the project are quite surprising — attacks have reduced by nearly 100 per cent!

Mr Mobisa said that following the construction of the bomas, no predation was recorded the whole of year last year in the Masai Mara.

“The success of the bomas in the Mara is tremendous. The Anne Kent Taylor Fund has gone ahead and put up the bomas in almost all the homes and now the attitude of the people towards wildlife has changed a lot,” said the wildlife researcher.

Mr Mobisa said the data collected from a sample of about 400 households around some of the animal sanctuaries in the country indicated that each household lost more than 10 animals to predators, mainly the big cats, every year.

According to the Kenya Wildlife Service 2009-2014 National Conservation and Management Strategy for Lions and Spotted Hyenas in Kenya, a majority of lions in Kenya are found in Maasai land, Tsavo and Laikipia regions.

The strategy paper says that predation on livestock is most severe when wild prey diminishes in number.

The paper also shows that the estimated total lion population in Kenya was put at 2,749 in 2002. This reduced to 2,280 in 2004 with further estimates indicating a continued decline to 1,970 in 2008.

Africa’s lion population is estimated to have fallen by as much as 70 per cent in the last 30 years.

KWS senior scientist Dr Charles Musyoki said the Lion Proof Bomas initiative had come in handy in addressing human-wildlife conflict in the country.

Valuable initiative

“This is a valuable initiative that will go a long way towards safeguarding the relationship between the communities living near parks and games reserves and wildlife. This means more lions survive in a country world-famous for its wildlife heritage,” he added.

Dr Musyoki said that according to pastoralists, the animals that posed the greatest threat to their livestock were lions, hyenas, leopards and cheetahs.

“When lions attack and kill livestock, pastoral communities often retaliate by spearing and poisoning them,” he said.

But prior to the coming of the bomas, the ranch came up with the Predators Consolidation Fund to compensate herders whose animals were killed by lions.

“We pay Sh20,000 for a cow, Sh3,000 for a goat or sheep and Sh7,000 for a donkey. This funding from National Geographic has really helped because rather than retaliate after they lose their livestock, they get compensated,” said Mr Maringa.