June 25, 2013
NAIROBI, KENYA – James Turere, a 60-year-old herder from the Kenyan village of Kitengela, woke up one morning in March to a shocking loss. Lions had killed three of his goats and one of his cows during the night, he says.
Kitengela is approximately 500 meters (0.3 miles) from an unfenced area of Nairobi National Park. Only a small river separates the vast park from the mud huts and dusty plains of Turere’s village, he says.
Predators living in the park can easily cross the river on the hunt for food, he says. Wild animals stray near his home and attack his livestock.
Turere is a member of the Maasai tribe, a pastoralist community in Kenya. Among the Maasai, a man’s quantity of cows, sheep and goats determines his wealth. Turere owns more than 70 heads of cattle, but even one loss is devastating, he says.
“That cow was the main source of our livelihood,” he says of the one that died during the March attack. “My wife used to milk it and sell the milk in Kitengela town.”
The attack cost him 75,000 Kenyan shillings ($875), he says. The Kenya Wildlife Service, the agency responsible for wildlife conservation and management, covered a portion of the loss as consolation.
But it was not enough, and Turere has not financially recovered, he says.
The government of Kenya is considering compensation of herders like Turere in new legislation.
Kenya’s Cabinet approved the Wildlife Conservation and Management Bill and Policy on June 6, setting the stage for Parliament to debate the legislation. If the bill becomes an act, it will establish Kenya’s first policy of compensating herders when wild animals kill their livestock.
The Wildlife Foundation, a local nonprofit organization, provides the Kenya Wildlife Service with consolation money to channel to herders, says Irinah Katherina Wandera, the foundation’s program manager, in a phone interview.
But the new bill proposes wildlife compensation committees in each of Kenya’s 47 counties. Those who suffer property loss or damage from wildlife attacks would be able to submit a claim for compensation to the local committee, according to the bill.
If the committee verifies the claim and the cabinet secretary responsible for wildlife approves it, the government would have to compensate the person at local market rates, according to the bill.
Human sprawl contributes to higher levels of human-wildlife conflict near Nairobi National Park, Kitarus says.
Nairobi National Park sits only about seven kilometers (four miles) south of the center of Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, according to Kenya Wildlife Service’s website.
The park’s proximity to the fast-growing capital makes it vulnerable to human encroachment, Kitarus says. Humans have overrun the park’s dispersal areas, or outlying regions that park officials designated to accommodate animals during the rainy season.
Kitengela’s business hub is only 30 kilometers (19 miles) from Nairobi and lies within a former dispersal area, he says. Human proximity prevents animals from inhabiting these areas, so they instead stray to the less populated plains where Maasai herders live.
Herders, conservation organizations and national park staff have debated how to mitigate human-wildlife conflict in the region.
Herders killed a pride of lions that had mauled several of their cows and goats in June 2012, Kitarus says. The Kenya Wildlife Service condemned the incident.
“Killing of lions is unacceptable,” Kitarus says.
But members of the Maasai tribe say that they had no choice.
“Whenever herders have to choose between conserving wildlife and protecting their livestock, they choose the latter, as it is their only source of livelihood,” says Wilson Kiraiyan, a member of the Kitengela Elparago Land Owners Association, which represents Maasai herders. “Herders get no benefits from lions.”
Fencing the perimeter of Nairobi National Park is long overdue, says Josphat Ngoyo, the executive director of the Africa Network for Animal Welfare, a conservation organization based in Nairobi.
“The animal dispersal area has already been taken over by people, so it doesn’t make sense to keep the park open,” he says. “The KWS should also be considerate to herders, who have been losing their only source of livelihood to lions.”
In the past, the Kenya Wildlife Service has not adequately repaid herders for property loss or damage, Kiraiyan says.
“The KWS pays 15,000 shillings [$175] per cow,” he says, “which is too little considering that the animal goes at 60,000 shillings [$700] at the market.”
The agency also moves slowly, sometimes taking two years to give herders their consolation money, he says.
But Kitarus says that the Kenya Wildlife Service has done the best it can with limited resources.
“The herders should know that we always do our best in responding to emergencies, despite the fact that we have limited resources and personnel,” he says.
But if the newly approved bill becomes an act and establishes compensation funds, the Kenya Wildlife Service will begin compensating herders, Kitarus says.
The Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife must review the bill before it introduces it to Parliament, says Michael Gachanja, the executive director of The East African Wild Life Society and a member of the technical team responsible for drafting the bill, in a phone interview.
Kitarus says he is optimistic that Parliament will pass the legislation because of its poaching provisions.
“Chances of its approval in Parliament are high because of its strong anti-poaching proposals,” he says. “The government is working hard to end poaching.”
Kiraiyan says he hopes that the bill will become an act.
“The fact that the government will pay herders the full value of the lost animals is encouraging,” he says. “I hope the law comes into force soon.”
In the meantime, herders are working with park administrators to develop short-term solutions to the conflict, and there are signs that their talks will be fruitful, Turere says.
Correction: The original version of this article, published June 26, contained a quote from a Nairobi National Park representative that incorrectly named the Kenya Wildlife Trust and Friends of Nairobi National Park as donors of consolation funds to the Kenya Wildlife Service. The Kenya Wildlife Trust does not support compensation or consolation schemes. The article has been update Global Press Journal regrets this error.