Just one of the many dead lions after ingesting poison
LionAid have held back from commenting on this issue for many good reasons. It is a highly complex situation that requires thought and careful analysis to propose a solution.
Let’s just look a few facts.
1. The Masai Mara is a Reserve, not a National Park. The difference is that the communities, to whom the land belongs, do have “user rights” over the natural resources of the Reserve. To what extent these “user rights” apply has never been made clear and have never been communicated. A “free for all” grazing of many hundreds of cattle is not a sustainable practice.
2. A considerably ignored scientific publication (I’ll get to that below) using comprehensive information predicted this current situation. Interestingly, the paper mentions that the annual income from the Mara is very conservatively $5.5 million per year. But where has all this money gone? Years ago, the notorious Narok County Council gathered the income, but how was it distributed? Did it go to the communities? Did it benefit wildlife conservation?
3. I conducted a number of wildlife research projects in the Mara during the 1980’s to the early 1990’s via the National Museums of Kenya. Already at that time, the Kenya national media spoke of a big discrepancy between “bed nights” reported by the camps and gate entry numbers. In other words, were the gatekeepers pocketing significant amounts of money - so many “missing” tourists?
4. There was zero transparency and accountability from the Narok County Council about the distribution of income from the Mara. Where did all the millions go? Would communities have better recognized the value of wildlife – including lions – if they would have received funds from the Mara to attend to their very basic necessities? Like water, electricity, transport, clinics, schools, pensions, better protection for cattle? The Narok County Council has now been dissolved and devolved to the Narok Provincial Government. The elected Governor of Narok County, Samuel Ole Tunai, has called for reform.
5. The tourist camps in the Mara area have meanwhile grown like weeds, and allegedly many of them have never been appropriately licenced. The environmental consequence of all these unregulated camps is not only destructive but once again constitutes profit taking without adequate community involvement. The long-established camps have always maintained a conservation consciousness. But many of the others can perhaps be more appropriately called profiteers.
6. The main problems are therefore a lack of transparency, accountability, revenue sharing, forward planning and conservation consciousness.
So where do we go from here?
The Masai Mara authorities need to urgently impose regulations and limits. The lions were always going to be killed under the present regime of “laissez faire”. The authorities urgently need to explain expenditure of past income. The Mara is one of the highest income earning wildlife reserves in the world but the poorest performer to attend to the needs of local communities and protection of wildlife.
Let me now share a few extracts from the scientific publication referred to above:
1." …. pressure comes from the local people who graze their cattle within the parks "(Cussins 1996; Yeager and Miller 1986). In the Masai Mara National Reserve (MMNR) the Masai people face two main problems. The first is encounter with wildlife (wildlife damage their crops, deprive domestic livestock, sometimes livestock or even people are killed), while the second is competition for access to wood, grasses, water and other resources (Hart and O'Connell, 2000, Ngure, 1995, Norton-Griffiths, 1996, O'Connell et al., 1998). There is underlying politics involved in the management of MMNR. All stakeholders are not equally consulted on matters of reserve management.
2. For the better management of the park affected people should have participated in the planning process for establishing and managing the park, or been offered access to some alternative resources that would substitute for the traditional lifestyle (Lewis and Alpert 1996; Sibanda and Omwega 1996), but historically this has generally not been done (Yeager and Miller; Sibanda and Omwega 1996).
3. “Social and economic scenario has been accentuated by state tourism and wildlife policies which focus narrowly on the protection of park wildlife for foreign tourists without any involvement of the Masai in the management and utilization of these resources…..It has been noted that there is a major foreign presence in almost all of the country's tourism subsectors, such as marketing and promotion, travel and transport, and hotel and hospitality service. In consequence, there is high leakage of Kenya's tourism receipts” (Akama, 1999).
4. This amount [$5.5 million estimated annually] is about twelve times greater than the amount needed for appropriate reserve management, however; the full sum of those funds never went to their intended purpose (Walpole and Williams 2001). This amount might have been collected but there is no record with the local or central Kenyan authorities (Mbaria, 2001; Ottichilo, de Leeuw, and Prins, 2000). The reserve is heavily damaged from uncontrolled tourism which is leading to significant loss of many wildlife species.
5. Amboseli and the Masai Mara … are dangerously unsustainable regarding wildlife conservation. The reason is shortsightedness and poor implementation policies. Due to unclear policies and deficiencies in the implementation process there is a conflict between conservation interests and the local people. The income from the tourists is not reaching those who actually suffer or those who have the right to the land (Cheeseman, 2003)."
See the full paper here
So, at the end of the day the poisoning of the lions seems more and more inevitable. The pressure cooker had been boiling for years. Nobody paid much attention, nobody seemed invested in an effective consultative process to affect change.
More lions dead - fingers pointed at the poisoners. Yes, they surely broke the law. But how about all those who stood by while nothing was being done? Perhaps they should also be in the dock?
If the Mara wants to continue to exist as a primary wildlife tourism destination in the future much change and better land use planning is required. Otherwise we will end up once again with another wildlife reserve doomed.
Picture credit: Patrick Reynolds