Good Fences Make Good Neighbors: Saving African Carnivores by Protecting Livestock

Photo by Diedre Leowinata/African People & Wildlife Fund A Maasai boy walks toward one of the boma’s houses; to his left is a Living Wall used to protect livestock from predators. Living Walls are environmentally friendly, predator-proof enclosures that combine fast-growing thorny trees as fence posts (a Maasai) with chain link fencing. The African People & Wildlife Fund helped develop, implement and monitor the effectiveness of the Living Walls and their impact on instances of human-wildlife conflict in Tanzania.
A Maasai boy walks toward one of the boma’s houses; to his left is a Living Wall used to protect livestock from predators. Living Walls are environmentally friendly, predator-proof enclosures that combine fast-growing thorny trees as fence posts (a Maasai innovation) with chain link fencing. The African People & Wildlife Fund helped develop, implement and monitor the effectiveness of the Living Walls and their impact on instances of human-wildlife conflict in Tanzania. Photo by Diedre Leowinata/African People & Wildlife Fund.

In last week’s post about a recent safari to Tanzania, we mentioned the “Living Walls” project, an effort to reduce conflicts between humans and big cats in the Maasai Steppe. Named after the Maasai ethnic group, the Maasai Steppe is an area in northeastern Tanzania that encompasses both Tarangire and Lake Manyara National Parks and is home to diverse wildlife as well as a longstanding human population. (Here’s a map of the Maasai Steppe.)

Raising cattle and goats is a major livelihood among the Maasai. At night when the herds are not out grazing, their owners traditionally keep them in circular pens fenced in by dead acacia thorns. The thorns can deter predators, but they aren’t foolproof, because they degrade easily in the harsh sun. Each Maasai community in the Steppe experiences carnivore attacks on livestock in these traditional pens about 50 times a year, resulting in the deaths of 72-84 lions across the Steppe as herders seek to protect their livestock.

Living Walls are a better approach developed together by Maasai communities and the African Wildlife & People Fund. Living Walls are based on the traditional acacia pen, but use fast-growing native trees and chainlink as reinforcement. This makes it very difficult for a predator to jump over or break through the pen.

Photo by Diedre Leowinata/African People & Wildlife Fund Livestock contained within a Living Wall. Living Walls are environmentally friendly, predator-proof enclosures that combine fast-growing thorny trees as fence posts (a Maasai innovation) with chain link fencing. The African People & Wildlife Fund helped develop, implement and monitor the effectiveness of the Living Walls and their impact on instances of human-wildlife conflict in Tanzania.
Photo by Diedre Leowinata/African People & Wildlife Fund. Goats protected by a Living Wall.

Living Walls dramatically decrease predator attacks on livestock, and thus also virtually eliminate killing of predators by humans. From 2003 to 2013, Living Walls had a 99.9% success rate at deterring nighttime predator attacks, and herders with Living Walls didn’t kill any predators.

Because the fences rely largely on abundant natural resources, they are a practical, cost-effective solution to what up until now seemed like an intractable problem on the Maasai Steppe.

Would you like to learn more? Check out the links below:

Photo by Diedre Leowinata/African People & Wildlife Fund Two children walk along a well-trodden track around the Living Wall in their family’s boma. Living Walls are environmentally friendly, predator-proof enclosures that combine fast-growing thorny trees as fence posts (a Maasai innovation) with chain link fencing. The African People & Wildlife Fund helped develop, implement and monitor the effectiveness of the Living Walls and their impact on instances of human-wildlife conflict in Tanzania.
Two children walk along a well-trodden track around the Living Wall in their family’s boma. Photo by Diedre Leowinata/African People & Wildlife Fund.

Elephants Can Distinguish Languages

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Researchers in Kenya have discovered that African elephants can learn to distinguish among different human languages. They also seem to be able to tell the difference between when a man, a woman or a child is speaking.

A group of animal behaviorists observed that elephants retreat more quickly when they hear a man speaking the Ma language (the language of the Maasai). Women and children speaking Ma do not elicit the same response, and neither do men speaking Kamba, another Kenyan language. Scientists believe the elephants have developed a fear of Maasai men because of a history of hunting.

The end of a journey

Our breakfast at Serian Mara

Our breakfast table at Serian Mara

We were sorry to say goodbye to the rustic comfort of Serian Mara after just one night, but it was time to head back to Nairobi and then home. After breakfast, we headed out for a short game drive on our way to the airstrip.

Giraffe

The last giraffe we saw on our trip.

Cape Buffalo

A group of elderly cape buffalo.

Our driver and guide were two young men from the local Masai community. William, our guide, pointed out dik diks, topi and numerous other animals on our way. He told us that pumba, the Swahili word for warthog, is related to the word for stupid and that the swine got their name from their habit of running only a short distance and then suddenly stopping while being chased by predators. He called topi, a large antelope with a brown body and blue-black fur on its legs, “the blue jeans of Africa.”

We arrived at the airstrip and waited only 5 minutes before the plane landed and it was time to get on board. The plane was tiny, but the ride was surprisingly comfortable. We made two stops to pick up passengers in other parts of the Masai Mara before the final leg of our journey to Nairobi.

Air Kenya flight from Masai Mara to Nairobi

Boarding our Air Kenya flight from Masai Mara to Nairobi.

Look closely at the hippos on the island!

View from the airplane – if you look closely you can see hippos on the island.

We arrived at Wilson Airport, a hub for regional flights within Kenya. Before heading to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport for our flights back home, we stopped for lunch at Carnivore, a popular restaurant that serves a variety of all-you-can-eat meats. Meats such as ostrich, lamb, crocodile, chicken, beef, turkey and camel are roasted over an open fire on Masai sword skewers. Servers then come around to each table, carving slices of meat to order for each guests. In addition to meat, we enjoyed the classic Kenyan cocktail called dawa. This mix of lime, honey, raw sugar and vodka was first made popular in Nairobi and has spread in popularity throughout Africa.

It was a lovely way to toast the end of a wonderful journey, Kenyan-style.

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