Maasai Mara under threat as key migration routes are cut off

Zebras graze outside a fence at Talek in Narok County
Zebras graze outside a fence at Talek in Narok County

Lions don’t eat at night, don’t piss off a buffalo it will hold the grudge for years and hunt you down, don’t make eye contact with a lion unless you want it to attack you and elephants are humble unless you disturb them, Rise Olari Ole Nkuruma tells us during our visit to the Maasai Mara.

Rise is a resident of a conservancy on the outskirts of the Maasai Mara at Talek in Narok County and has lived near wildlife enough to know their behaviour patterns.

We had gone there on a WWF sponsored trip to find out how the numbers of lions in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve were faring and whether there was any cause for alarm.

We found good news, but that will be the subject of another article coming soon.

Aside from the lion numbers, we discovered a silent problem. Fences. As the Maasai community moved from group ranches to individual ownership of land, members of the community fenced off huge chunks of land, which resulted in the blocking of key migration routes for wild animals.

Needless to say, this fencing problem is threatening the Mara ecosystem, with the Loita Plain migration route for wildebeests being completely cut off.

Nick Elliot, the project director of the Mara Lion Project told Citizen Digital that fencing has resulted in the blocking of migration routes and as such impacted the population of lions in the majestic park.

But in the midst of this shift in culture, some members of the community have resolved to give their land to conservancies to ensure wildlife flourishes with minimum human interference.

One such conservancy is Oloisukut Conservancy. The conservancy that was launched in 2010 was initially part of the Kimintet Group Land before the land was subdivided and title deeds given to the various members.

“The elders saw that it was not sustainable because some people started selling the land while others burned charcoal, so they decided to bring it back together and manage it as a whole,” said Megish Derrick, the conservancy’s manager.

The conservancy now boasts the status of elephant maternity.

“The big animals that pass through here are elephants but other animals follow suit including the wildebeests, lions and others,” he said.

Oloisukut is made up of a bushland and woodland savanna type of vegetation, which favours elephants.

“Elephants come here because it is not as noisy as the game reserve. They come here to mate and stay till the cubs are big enough to move to the game reserve,” he added.

The conservancy is divided into three parts with one part acting as the animals’ habitat, another serving as a grass bank where grass is let to grow for use during drought and another part is where the owners of the land live.

“We have agreed to give our land to the conservancies and moved so that we can allow wildlife to be in the area,” said Michael Oloolabata, a landowner in the conservancy.

Mzee Oloolabata noted that they have seen that the animals are of value to them and the money from the conservancy has been used to construct schools and other local amenities.

Charles Ole Sharkik, another landowner, told Citizen Digital that they have lived with the animals for many years and that they love them

“When we learned that the animals were facing extinction we agreed to give our land to conservation efforts. We have always had conflict with wild animals, but that does not mean that we hate them,” he said.

The community has taken to conservancies because they provide members with a way of earning a living through payment for the land, funding for community projects such as schools and water projects and employment for their children.

This might just be the lifeline the Maasai Mara needs to survive the unavoidable effects of urbanisation and the changing culture of the Maasai community.

“If we kill our animals, where will we get money, how will we get tourists?” posed Rise.

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Story By Lisa Kamau
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