Can the Lion Lie Down with the Lamb? in the Kitengela Area South of Nairobi, an Innovative Approach to Conflicts between Wildlife and Herders

By Dawson, John | Earth Island Journal, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

Can the Lion Lie Down with the Lamb? in the Kitengela Area South of Nairobi, an Innovative Approach to Conflicts between Wildlife and Herders


Dawson, John, Earth Island Journal


The flight into Nairobi airport is spectacular. As your plane begins its approach, look out the window at the broad grasslands of Kitengela, home to Maasai pastoralists and their livestock--you can make out the distinctive circular thorn stockades into which the cattle, sheep, and goats are herded for safety each night. In the last minutes before landing, you pass the Mbagathi River and sweep across the plains of Nairobi National Park, home to milling herds of wild animals with not a domestic creature in sight.

At least that's the theory, but life is never that simple. The Mbagathi is not a strict dividing line between the tame and the wild. Weaving through the Maasai livestock are herds of wildebeest, zebra, antelope, and other herbivores tracking the ancient dry-season migratory route northwards up the Kitengela Corridor to the very outskirts of Nairobi. And wishing them luck on their journey are the lions of Nairobi National Park.

But these days, many of the travellers are down on their luck. The herbivores have to weave past far more than the livestock as they make their way north--the human population has grown, rangeland has been fenced, and the procession of animals reaching the park has slowed to a trickle. So what then do the lions eat?

David ole Nkedianye knows. "If they don't find the zebra, they come out of the park and kill our cattle." And the Maasai have always responded in kind, knowing that a lion habituated to killing livestock is a danger to man as well as beast. As the tit-for-tat slaughter escalated, conservationists, within Kenya and internationally, became increasingly concerned. Their concern was shared by the Maasai themselves, who have always taken pride in their custodianship of the wildlife that shares their lands.

In the flames of this conflict, an unlikely partnership was forged between the local Maasai community, represented by the Kitengela Ilparakuo Landowners Association, and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). With bases in Nairobi and Addis Ababa, and with a history of research that has benefited livestock farmers throughout the world, ILRI was perfectly qualified to throw light on the problems besetting the Maasai pastoralists.

But this is not a cliched story of a bossy international organization telling a local community what to do. It was the Maasai community that initially approached ILRI, and a genuine partnership has developed.

The partnership is personified in the figure of Nkedianye, raised in the Kitengela and now working as a community facilitator for ILRI. In 1987, he witnessed a historic change as the Maasai of his area voted to subdivide their communal lands into private plots.

The fences that sprang up as a result are a visible symbol of a community and a landscape in a state of flux. Outsiders bought property and developed the area in nontraditional ways. The increase in population (it has more than doubled in the last 10 years) and the reduction in available grazing areas have brought increasing poverty to the Maasai pastoralists, many of whom survive on an income of less than $1 a day.

Then, in 2000, the Friends of Nairobi National Park (FoNNaP) inaugurated the Wildlife Conservation Lease Programme. This program offered $4 per acre annually to landowners prepared to keep their property open for the passage of migrating wildlife.

The Maasai of the Kitengela were in a quandary. What was their land currently earning from pastoralism? Might there be other options that would pay more? What are other people in Kenya, and indeed around the world, doing in similar circumstances? Like any self-respecting entrepreneurs, they wanted to know the returns on their options.

They turned to ILRI, and so began the Reto-o-Reto Project. In the Maasai language this means "you help us and we help you. …

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