It has been over a month since I last posted – apologies for that – things have been very busy and after a difficult start to the year with all the politics and unrest in the country, it looks like life is gradually going back to some semblance of normality for most.
Since I last posted we have had a series of incidents in different conservancies – one being a man-eating lion in Melako Conservancy which attacked and killed one person and injured two others over a three week period in February.
This was the post I wrote about it a few weeks back – unfortunately I haven’t been able to load it due to the difficulties with the wildlife direct website
James a. – thanks so much for your donation last month!
Last week I was up in Melako Conservancy which is our northern-most conservancy situated in Marsabit district. The conservancy is owned by the Rendille community that inhabit this area, comprising Merille, Laisamis and Koya. It’s an arid landscape of thorny Acacia and Commiphora bushland interspersed with open grasslands and vast-wide luggas (dry river beds). A harsh and spectacular area where the communities live with their herds of cattle, goats and camels alongside wildlife. This area is important for endangered Grevy’s Zebra – we estimate about 150-200 Grevy’s in the area – and is renown for the enormous flocks of sandgrouse that come to water in their thousands every morning in the dry season.
Melako Views looking towards koitra-hill.
What is also becoming apparent, as we gather information from the community and through the daily wildlife monitoring being carried out by conservancy scouts, is that this area has a healthy population of cheetah and lion, as well as spotted hyena. Previously, almost nothing was known of the status and distribution of these large predators in this part of Kenya and gradually, through the work of the conservancy scouts, we are gathering data on distribution and relative abundance of these species. At the recent workshop to develop the conservation strategy for lion and spotted hyena held by KWS, we were able to contribute data and information for these species for a large part of northern Kenya where there is currently no research being done. So gradually, there is recognition for the work of these conservancies and the role they can play in providing data and information at a national level.
While I was in Melako, I followed up reports of lion conflict in the area. In the past month one person has been killed (and eaten!) and two people injured in the Merille area. The lions in this area have always been notorious, however, usually they only kill livestock. The community report that it is one particular lion that is causing the problems and that it has chunks of hair missing – either very old or possible sick with mange – and it has begun to stalk people during the day. Naturally they are very concerned and afraid but amazingly the community have not retaliated – yet. From the scouts data we know there are about four other lions living in this area and it is vital that something is done before the community take matters into their own hands and decide to kill all the lions in the area. Although KWS have tried on two occasions to track this lion they have been unsuccessful and it is still at large. Yesterday, NRT sent a vehicle to the area and together with Melako Conservancy scouts and KWS the plan is to track and shoot the man-eating lion. Of course it is vital that they shoot the right lion if they are to solve the problem, so Lewa Wildlife Conservancy have sent their lion research assistant and tracker to help in this operation. It’s strange to be involved in a ‘lion hunt’ but it is so important that the conservancy and KWS are seen to be doing something and hopefully to successfully eliminate this problem animal, in order to maintain community support for conservation. It’s naieve to expect communities to peacefully live alongside these animals when people are being killed and injured. Interestingly effective, targeted problem animal control was identified in the conservation strategy meeting as one of the ways of reducing human-lion conflict.
So…….I am sitting by the radio and phone hoping to hear some news from the scouts…as soon as I do I will put it on the post.
The guys came back from their week looking for the lion, full of stories of tracking lions and following up on livestock kills by lions. They were unable to find the problem lion but from their information it appears that there are many more lion in the area than we thought previously. Some Melako scouts have been selected to spend two weeks learning about lion behaviour, ecology, tracking, ageing and sexing lions. They will then begin collecting more detailed information on lions in this area so that we can begin to understand the numbers of individuals and prides that are resident as well as how conflict with people occurs – whether lions break into bomas at night or kill livestock during the day. With this information we can hopefully look at effective ways of reducing lion conflict in this area.
Two More Hirola Poached
This week a security team from the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy went to Ishaqbini Conservancy in the north-east of Kenya – to carry out anti-poaching training with the conservancy scouts. In the five days since they have been there they have found two more Hirola killed by poachers – one died from arrow wounds and the other was seriously injured with it’s stomach exposed from a wound and is most probably dead. This brings to four the number of Hirola that have been found poached in this area since the start of this year – which in an estimated population of less than 100 is an alarmingly high proportion. They also found a buffalo caught in a snare, still alive, and set an ambush at the site in the hope of catching the poachers when they returned for the meat. They succeeded in apprehending one poacher, the others managed to escape, however when word got out that the poacher had been arrested the community descended on mass armed with bows and arrows, spears and machetes. Faced with an angry mob of over one hundred armed people, the scouts were forced to release the poacher. Yesterday the security teams again intercepted two poachers who this time were arrested and will appear in court tomorrow.
The level of poaching in this area is alarming – Hirola number less than 400 in the world and at the moment we know we are loosing this animal at a rate of almost two a month to poachers. It doesn’t take much to do the maths and work out that at this rate the species is likely to become extinct in just a few years, unless the poaching is brought under control. The Ishaqbini scouts do not have the experience, training or firearms needed to address such a high poaching threat and we desperately need a KWS anti-poaching presence in the area to bring it under control.
The difficulty facing this conservancy is that the poachers are from a different community and tribe than those who own the conservancy. The potential for this situation to create tension between these two neighbouring communities is a real concern and something that we must help address soon. The situation could undermine the future of the conservancy and create conflict between two communities who have been living peacefully as neighbours. The next few days and weeks are critical – both to bring the current poaching threat under control and develop dialogue with the community where the poaching originates.
Please excuse the very long post – lots to tell and too little time!