Wildlife pays the Maasai through the community ranger operation
Lion and elephant are still speared by the Maasai communities in retaliation to livestock and crop losses. Professional GRAA member, Iain Olivier, and his team of rangers are using innovative ways to reduce human-wildlife conflict.
Photo credit: Iain Olivier
We chat to Iain about his new position as Conservation Manager in Kenya:
Where are you based?
I am based on the 120000 Ha Kuku Group Ranch, which is land owned communally by the local Maasai community. Kuku is situated in the heart of the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem in Southern Kenya and has a critical position within the ecosystem as it serves as an important wet season grazing area for wildlife and also serves as a critical wildlife corridor between Tsavo West National Park and Amboseli National Park.
I work for the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust (MWCT), a non-profit organisation whose goal in the ecosystem is to preserve wilderness, wildlife and cultural heritage across the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem by creating sustainable economic benefit for the Maasai people.
What are some of your responsibilities in this new position?
I am responsible for coordinating the activities of the MWCT Community Ranger operation, consisting of 76 rangers in the field. This team runs daily foot and anti-poaching patrols across the protected area and collects ecological and security data using Cybertracker and SMART.
I also run the Simba Scout program, where we have employed 14 young Maasai warriors as predator game scouts. These are the guys in the community that go out on traditional or retaliatory lion hunts. So instead of killing lions we have engaged them in protectiong and monitoring lion and other predators. The scouts are also responsible to prevent lion hunts and collect wildlife data.
One of the biggest projects I am responsible for is our predator compensation project ,called Wildlife Pays. Here MWCT compensates the Maasai community for livelstock killed by predators and other damange causing wildlife. It is an intensive operation, with local Maasais employed as verification officers, who investigate all the cases occuring across the area on a daily basis. The project alleviates the burden of living with wildlife while creating a tolerance to wildlife and increases support for conservation in the landscape. This type of program is essential for predator conservation on community land.
Other than this the position requires all of the usual conservation duties to be carried out including, rangeland monitoring, aerial wildlife census and of course considerable time in the office.
How does this job compare to where you previously work?
My previous work has been less community related and has focused more on biodiversity monitoring and wildlife management. I had the opportunity to work quite regularly with predators, including Lion and Cheetah in my previous position and this is something that inspired me to pursue this new position and focus more on predator and large mammal conservation. I spent some years in the Seychelles and this is a real change from that, but many of the core conservation activities remain constant.
What are some of your main goals for your new position?
Some of my main goals include setting up a new lion research program looking into, demography and diet of the population, comparing this to wildlife and livestock numbers with the ultimate goal of evaluating how viable the current population is and to what extent they are dependent on livestock. I would also like to make inroads into the severe overgrazing problems experienced throughout the area and look into implementing a holistic grazing management plan.
What are some of the conservation challenges faced with in the area?
Some of the biggest conservation challenges and threats include increases in the local human population and the associated increase in human wildlife conflict, from predators and other large mammals including Elephant. Ultimately many Lion and Elephant are speared when communities retaliate to loss of livestock and crops. Other challenges include poaching, conversion of natural areas, increase in agriculture and the loss of suitable wildlife habitat.
How do you plan to address these challenges?
One of the things that attracted me to MWCT and to working in conservation here in Kuku, was the extremely strong ties that the organization had with the local Maasai community. I feel that in many traditional and well known conservation endeavors, this relationship is a critical link which is often missing, without which conservation of natural resources and landscapes cannot succeed in a holistic and sustainable manner.
As such, I will tackle the challenges mentioned above by involving the local communities as much as possible in all of our conservation programs and actions. I will also aim to motivate and train up our local ranger force as much as possible and get them involved in organisations such as the GRAA. I feel that often these are links that more traditional conservation approaches fail to incorporate into programs that aim to protect critical ecosystems and threatened animal species.
Also, as I mention above, I think that a better understanding of the predator populations is critical in all protected area management and will allow better informed decisions to be made. This will be a very positive step in alleviating human wildlife conflict in the group ranch.
I also feel that addressing the overgrazing challenges will be a major step to solving some of the challenges and threats, including Elephant conflict, too frequent fires and loss of suitable wildlife habitat. We are also implementing a suite of payment for ecosystem service programs which I will spend considerable time working on and fighting for. The alternative livelihoods created under these programs are a really positive step for the conservation programs and Maasai communities.
To be able to work in such an iconic landscape such as the Tsavo Amboseli ecosystem and the Chyulu Hills is an absolute privilege. And to be a part of the unique and innovative approach to conservation issues within Maasai communally owned land adopted by MWCT is what drives me. I believe that with hard work and dedication, the Maasai community can thrive, not just survive, by managing their ecosystem wisely.