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The politics of dead lions

Friday 6th September 2013

The politics of dead lions

                                                                Retaliation, poaching or politics?

Yesterday, another lion was killed in Sinya, Tanzania. The story goes that a boy was herding some goats and came upon a group of lions. One of the lions killed a goat, whereupon the boy ran to get assistance from the Maasai morans who speared the lion. When rangers came upon the scene the morans ran off, but had already removed the paws, the ears, teeth, the tail and parts of the skin. Deep cuts between the ribs are unexplained but could indicate the morans might have been after other body parts before they were disturbed. 

The lion incident was reported by Raabia Hawa, a Kenya Wildlife Service Honorary Warden who is participating in a Walk with Rangers to highlight the needs of these men and women in the forefront of conservation efforts. The pictures were sent by Aafeez Jivray, who runs Tanzania Private Select Safaris. The pictures were taken by Kateto Ole Kashe.

Taking those parts from the lion defines this incident as poaching, as the claws and teeth can be sold and the tail, ears and skin have cultural importance within the Maasai communities. Collection of such parts seems to be a growing trend among those who kill lions to “retaliate”. Or could it be a growing trend of poaching lions for commercial return under the guise of “retaliation”? 

But let me now bring a different slant on this lion poaching incident. It could well have to do with the local Maasai community at Sinya seeking to express dissatisfaction with the way they are being disenfranchised by the Tanzania government. A recent paper presented at the International Conference on Global Land Grabbing (April 2011) by Benjaminsen and others made specific reference to Sinya and the considerable disadvantages the community has experienced resulting from government and NGO wildlife and land use practices.  

The village where the lion was killed (and another lion shortly before) is close to the Kenya border and has a central location between Kenya’s Amboseli National Park and conservation areas in Tanzania. Wildlife is diverse and abundant, meaning that Sinya attracted attention both as a potential ecotourism and trophy hunting destination. 

The above paper made the following points: 

•In 2001, Sinya made an agreement with a tour company (Tanganyika Wilderness Camps) to utilize the village’s land and received an annual lease fee of $30,000 from 2002-2004. 

•At the same time, the Wildlife Division in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism allocated a trophy hunting block also covering Sinya’s land to the company Northern Hunting and Enterprises Ltd. Sinya owns the village land, but wildlife is the property of the government, and all fees paid by the hunting company revert to central government. 

•The Wildlife Conservation (Tourist Hunting) Regulations of 2000 prohibit game viewing within a hunting block, so Tanganyika Wilderness Camps had to move out of Sinya to the neighbouring village of Elerai where there is much less wildlife. Sinya thus no longer receives the bulk of the tourism money.

•When Wildlife Management Areas were introduced in 2003-2004, villagers were promised hunting quotas and that state-controlled sport hunting would be phased out in favour of local management. But hunting seems far too lucrative to be decentralized. Of hunting fees collected by central government, 25% is supposed to revert to the local level. There is a considerable lack of transparency about profits made by hunting companies and great resistance on the part of the Wildlife Division to disclose information about how much is being earned. Thus WMAs are kept in the dark as to whether the funds they receive are actually what they are entitled to.

•Sinya resisted for a long time to be included in Enduimet WMA as they saw no benefit in sharing wildlife revenues with the eight other villages in the area, most of which have much less wildlife on their land. Sinya was eventually convinced in 2009 after considerable pressure from the African Wildlife Foundation and the Tanzania government.

•Another reason why Sinya resisted is because WMAs often restrict the Maasai from grazing on some of their own land.

•Now that Sinya is part of a WMA, they are prohibited from entering into individual contracts with safari companies, instead having to accept 65% of safari tourism (photographic) income via community based organizations. The same lack of transparency as with the hunting revenues also applies; it is therefore difficult to determine if the correct amount is transferred to the CBOs as they have no way of knowing the total revenue earned.

•Sinya thus lost out in many ways: their contract with a photographic safari operator was cancelled; they were required to accept membership in a WMA that they considered against their interests; they do not know if they receive a fair share of revenue earned by hunting and photographic companies utilizing village land; their grazing rights have become restricted under rules of being part of a WMA; and they are forbidden to enter into any independent contracts on their land. 

The paper therefore concludes that “community based” conservation programmes put in place by government and large international conservation NGOs steadily decreases local people’s access to their own land and natural resources.

Instead of encouraging local communities to live with wildlife through fair and equitable distribution of profits, the current system in Tanzania seems to be having the opposite effect. Communities in wildlife areas that do not adequately share in benefits to offset the damage caused by wild animals can be expected to develop great animosity, as exemplified by the killing of this lion and many others in both Kenya and Tanzania. Time for Tanzania to better engage with Maasai land owners? 

Posted by Pieter Kat at 18:46

Gina Chronowicz
7th September 2013 at 19:33

This is a bad situation for the people whose land is being encroached ├╣pon and for the wildlife that is being exploited. The maasai deserve better. As normal, sheer greed outweighs integrity on the part of big safari outfits and trophy hunters. Why are people surprised that anyone who will organise the murder of amazing big game animals for money, will screw over the villagers for profit without a second thought. Shame on the Tanzanian Government for being hand in glove.

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