Every day, whether it be the ice water shooting out of the showers or the dung beetles you wake up with (literally wake up with, in your sleeping bag), it’s easy to become on edge. I know when this “natural way of life” sometimes consumes us, it’s easy to start to complain & lose sight of where we actually are. It’s like, “Ugh I hate having to travel everywhere at night with close-toed shoes, headlamps, and an askari…but then again, it’s because elephants sometimes hang around the latrines…because wait…we’re in Africa….that huge continent on the other side of the world…okay nevermind my life is pretty cool right now…I can handle the headlamp headband.” Hence in the midst of writing a behemoth research paper, I need to talk about something that I was more than fortunate to experience firsthand…in hopes that my optimism will come out from hiding.
Around our campsite, most of the land is divided up into group ranches (private ownership, communal land use…implemented to encourage pastoralism sustainably [rotational grazing] back before the drought, when it was possible) and wildlife sanctuaries. As I have mentioned before, our campsite is smack dab in the middle of a wildlife corridor. If you look on a map of wildlife’s migration routes from Amboseli National Park in the south to Tsavo National Park (where my expedition was) more north, we are just residing in this “hallway” between the parks. During the wet-season, wildlife inherently leave the parks to allow for regrowth and travel to their dispersal lands or “buffer zones” around the parks. I know I haven’t really talked about human-wildlife conflict too much but that has been the ongoing theme for my time here in Kenya. This is also where human population comes into play again. With Maasai mommas having on average 18-20 kids each, you can imagine the spread of bomas in this area. Furthermore, because of the drought, the Maasai not only have livestock now, but they’re beginning to practice agriculture. In addition, wildlife are experiencing food scarcity is an understatement. So we have hungry wildlife dispersing into these communal ranches and the Maasai rapidly expanding both south and north into these buffer zones. Not surprisingly, food/water conflict, crop disturbance, and death of cattle (from carnivorous wildlife) are huge problems here every single night.
Anyway, a few of us decided to take a much needed break from chi-square and paired t-tests so we ventured off to the Kimana sanctuary. Cool story: I guess 8-10 years ago human-wildlife conflict was still very prevalent. Two female lionesses and a male were accused of killing a Maasai’s livestock and acting predatory around the community so they were unfortunately shot. Luckily hunting is 100% banned nowadays but that’s another issue I will hold back from getting into. After these lions were killed, 4 orphaned cubs were found. A group of Maasai took these cubs in and basically raised them. As you can imagine, the lions grew…a lot…and reproduced…so the facilities and food substance needed to nurture these animals were costly. Consequently, the lions are now open to view by the public for a fee. Although I think this is demoting them to a “zoo” environment, unfortunately it’s all they can do. These cubs were not raised in the wild, so without our help, they don’t have much hope. Anyway, these fees help pay for maintenance and goats…So yes, they actually let our research group watch these ravenous lions eat their dinner…3 goats. They also let us get so close to the lions (shhh…but the armed guard actually let me touch the lion’s side as it was rounding the corner…I tried to pull my curious right hand back with my left but I just couldn’t resist). The owners said that every so often, wild lions from one of the national parks will travel through the sanctuary and the fenced in lions will somehow break out (kind of scary, right?…this is in my backyard…) and be gone for 3-5 days. However, they always manage to find their way back to the fenced in area.
It’s awesome that these lions still have that innate need to be in the wild and are getting exposed to hunting on their own, but the fact that they willngly come back to this area makes releasing these lion extremely questionable. The owners do intend to release the next generation of cubs but I think tremendous changes in their level of exposure to humans and dependency on humans for food intake need to be made first. But all in all, it was breath-taking (this is becoming a theme, huh?) to see the lions effortlessly break through the bones of this goat and to hear their territorial calls. My camera loved this experience too . Reminds me of myself when I am hungry. Anyway, I have the first two sections of my paper due this afternoon so I have to get down to business…but then the last Wednesday open-air market is tonight! AKA I will be trading everything I no longer need (I must abide by the 50 pound airline limit this time…). I am literally going to the market with not even 50 shillings (0.75 cents). Let’s see what I can get!