A Big Year for African Wildlife: Seven Milestones of 2015

This story was original published on National Geographic Cat Watch on January 15th, 2016.

 

Photo courtesy of Massimiliano Sticca.
Photo courtesy of Massimiliano Sticca.

With the closing of 2015 comes the end of a big chapter for Africa and its spectacular wildlife. Looking back on the year, we reflect on the big wins and big changes for wildlife conservation in this huge, unique continent. Here are the top seven milestones for African wildlife in 2015.

By Deirdre Leowinata

  1. The U.S. Government listed African Lions under the Endangered Species Act.

To cap a year that won the world over in a fervor of lion activism, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announced in late December that it would put the king of cats on the U.S. Endangered Species Act. This means a few things, especially for hunting permits and conservation aid, but the significance is that lions have a new and influential official guardian.

  1. Cecil the Lion spurred policy changes and donations to wildlife conservation.

#CeciltheLion was by far the most famous animal of 2015, and is right up there with Mickey Mouse on the list of animals that have become a household name. The poaching of Cecil the Lion by Minnesota Dentist Walter Palmer triggered a global outcry for lion conservation unlike any the world has seen. And it worked. Not only did Cecil ignite a rush of donations to big-cat conservation and other wildlife conservation groups but it affected policy as well. New policies in place or in the works include commitments to ban the import of lion trophies by France and Britain, and banning the transport of animal trophies by more than 40 airlines. Whether it affected the U.S. decision to list lions on the ESA is unknown, but it probably didn’t hurt.

  1. African nations pledged to restore 100 million hectares of forest by 2030.

In a massive United Nations initiative officially referred to as AFR100, more than a dozen of Africa’s 54 countries pledged to restore their forests in a continent-wide effort to combat climate change and protect ecosystems. These countries include hosts of some of the continent’s most precious landscapes, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Madagascar, both of which house the last remaining populations of some of the world’s most unique species.

  1. U.S. and Chinese governments joined forces to put a final ban on the ivory trade.

In September, the U.S. and Chinese governments announced an agreement to work together toalmost completely ban the import and export of ivory. If it plays out, the agreement is a monumental decision for African elephants. China is the world’s top ivory consumer, and stopping the trade could save 30,000 elephants a year.

  1. Pope Francis issued an encyclical on the environment, encouraging the entire Roman Catholic church to care for our planet.

Okay, we have to say it: Pope Francis has done a lot for everyone this year, but this is a big deal. The encyclical, “Laudato Si” (Praise Be to You), is a papal document that every bishop and every priest of the Roman Catholic church has an obligation to read, and every member of the church has an obligation to recognize. And not only does this papal document recognize manmade global warming but it also speaks to issues of pollution, water, biodiversity, human life, equality, and the ethics of it all.

  1. The UN recognized wildlife trafficking as a transnational crime.

After a UN General Assembly decision in July of this year, wildlife trafficking officially became a serious crime. The United Nations Environment Programme executive director, Achim Steiner, called the resolution “a historic step forward,” and it could well be a defining moment. The resolution not only called on nations to legislate and cooperate on illegal trafficking enforcement but also recognized its link with organized crime and suffering in local communities. It could mean the world to species such as the rhino that are on the brink of extinction.

  1. NGOs and Chinese Internet Kingpin Tencent joined forces for elephants.

The Nature Conservancy and the International Fund for Animal Welfare have partnered with Tencent, a major Chinese Internet company, to battle online wildlife trafficking and promote the conservation of elephants. In the bigger picture, the collaboration is the first conservation project Tencent has partnered on. It, along with the recent U.S.-China partnership, may be a sign of China’s changing attitudes on wildlife conservation, which could mean a whole lot more for wildlife from 2016 onwards.

 

And as a fun bonus…2015 also brought Taylor Swift’s “Wildest Dreams” music video, featuring a slew of beautiful African wildlife, including her very own lion friend. Now, celebrity endorsements can be a bit shallow, and the video may misguide viewers about the behavior of wild lions (we of course do not promote lion handling), but there’s something to be said for the reach of a music video with over 300 million views. An influencer is an influencer, and out of all the celebrities, Ms. Swift and her video are not bad to have on your side. Plus, all of the funds generated by the video went to the African Parks Foundation of America. Until now Swift has been very generous to humanities, but this is the first time she has donated to conservation efforts. Perhaps this could be the beckoning call we needed.

APW Winter Newsletter 2015

Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 1.32.14 PM

Have you seen our winter newsletter? As we say farewell to 2015, we reflect on our past 10 years of work in Tanzania. From our innovative operation headquartered in the rural community of Loibor Siret on the southeastern boundary of Tarangire National Park, we are expanding our impact to communities across Northern Tanzania.

This year, we celebrate over 600 Living Walls in place, protecting the lives of over 100 of Tanzania’s lions, and over 100 000 cattle for 10 000 rural community members. We celebrate our women’s entrepreneurial groups, who started harvesting honey from their eco-friendly hives this past year. We celebrate Magayane Revocatus, our Conservation Education officer who is our second staff member to be named a Disney Conservation Hero. We celebrate our growing team of Warriors for Wildlife, local community members who have chosen to commit to work towards a brighter future for the wildlife in their communities. And of course we celebrate you — who continue to stand beside us and help us grow as we embark on our next decade in East Africa.

Thank you.

Read the full newsletter here, including a heartfelt thank you from our executive director Dr. Laly Lichtenfeld, and a debate in the science community on fencing Africa’s National Parks.

Are Fences the Solution for Protecting Africa’s National Parks?

An aerial image of the sharp line formed by the fence of a rhino sanctuary.

(Photo by George Wittemyer)

With the expansion of human populations, instances of human-wildlife conflict become increasingly frequent. One proposed solution to protect both people and wildlife is the implementation of fences around established protected areas. Many conservation scientists argue that these fences may do more harm than good. A recent paper published in June by some of the world’s most renowned conservation scientists gives policy makers the guidelines they need to decide whether a fence is the best solution for them.

By Deirdre Leowinata

Originally posted on National Geographic Cat Watch on Thursday July 9th, 2015

To fence or not to fence…

That is the question that has some members of the conservation community in knots. Subjects involving land use policy, such as the park size debate of the 1970s and 1980s, tend to garner attention both in and out of the scientific community, and fencing is no different. The outcomes of this particular battle have the potential to change the lives of millions of people as well as wildlife species dependent on some of the world’s most remarkable landscapes, so it might be wise to pay attention.

A recent paper co-authored by 45 scientists from around the world aims to help governments and policy-makers choose what protection plan is right for their parks by providing six critical factors to assess when making fencing decisions. The comprehensive paper, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, accounts for social and economic factors in addition to environmental ones. The factors are: economics, edge permeability, reserve design, connectivity, ecosystem services, and communities.

A fence in Mali-Gourma region, purpose unknown.

(Photo by Jake Wall)

In Africa, the subject of fencing is especially sensitive because many of its animals require large tracts of rangeland for seasonal migrations. The Serengeti-Mara ecosystem, for example, is home to the largest overland migration on the planet, with huge numbers of wildebeest and other hoofed animals moving around a 30,000-km2 area. The migration helps drive the regional patterns of biodiversity, including prey availability for the big cats. Closer to our headquarters on the Maasai Steppe, Tanzania’s Tarangire National Park makes for a perfect example of a dry season haven, with some of Tanzania’s highest concentrations of wildlife migrating into the area when the seasonal rains stop – including one of Africa’s only growing population of elephants. Fencing lands such as the Serengeti or Tarangire National Parks could significantly and permanently alter entire processes and landscapes by keeping ecosystem engineers such as wildebeest and elephants from their regular migrations. Those consequences would almost certainly trickle down to the communities inhabiting those regions and may also have unintended and ironic effects on the animals they’re built to protect.

A wildebeest dies after it is caught in a fence in Mara Kenya

(Photo by Jackson Looseyia)

Despite the uncertainty of fencing effects on ecosystems, certain African countries have already taken steps in new directions. Rwanda has fenced the 120-km border of its Akagera National Park in an attempt to stem human-wildlife conflict — at a cost of $2.5 million. Human-wildlife conflict may be the most common reason to fence protected areas; Uganda is leaning toward fencing all of its parks, and Malawi is contemplating using electric fence on all of its parks.

There are, as the authors do point out, multiple positive draws to fencing. Fences can be used to stop disease transmission, prevent the entry of invasive species, and curb direct resource extraction. In certain cases, such as the Australian drylands, fencing may currently be the best solution. However, because of the weighty financial and potential ecological costs of such an undertaking, it must be carefully evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

cheetah_Laly

 (Photo by African People & Wildlife Fund/Laly Lichtenfeld)

Dryland ecosystems such as those in the Serengeti-Mara system of East Africa account for 41% of the world’s land and house a large percentage of the world’s biodiversity as well as 2 billion of its people. As the paper points out, those 2 billion people include some of the world’s most marginalized communities, such as the semi-nomadic Maasai tribe that dominates the East African communities where we work. The African People & Wildlife Fund has spent the last 10 years developing strategies to reduce human-wildlife conflict that benefit both parties, with very encouraging results. In Northern Tanzania, access to resources such as seasonal water holes and grazing lands are necessary to support the communities of people and wildlife that have lived here for hundreds of years. In these landscapes, the reduced mobility that a fence might cause could mean the loss of either an iconic culture, or an iconic cat. This reinforces the need to develop solutions that promote coexistence, keeping both cats and cultures alive.

 

References:

Borner, M. (1985). The increasing isolation of Tarangire National Park. Oryx 19: 91-96.

Durant, S.M., Becker, M.S., Creel, S., Bashir, S., Dickman, A.J., Beudels-Jamar, R.C., Lichtenfeld, L., Hilborn, R., Wall, J., Wittemyer, G., Badamjav, L., Blake, S., Boitani, L, Breitenmoser, C., Broekhuis, F., Christianson, D., Cozzi, G., Davenport, T.R.B., Deutsch, J., Devillers, P., Dollar, L., Dolrenry, S., Douglas-Hamilton, I., Dröge, E., FitzHerbert, E., Foley, C., Hazzah, L., Hopcraft, J.G.C., Ikanda, D., Jacobson, A., Joubert, D., Kelly, M.J., Milanzi, J., Mitchell, N., M’Soka, J., Msuha, M., Mweetwa, T., Nyahongo, J., Rosenblatt, E., Schuette, P., Sillero-Zubiri, C., Sinclair, A.R.E., Price, M.R.S., Zimmerman, A., and N. Pettorelli (2015). Developing fencing policies for dryland ecosystems. Journal of Applied Ecology 52: 544-551.

Holdo R.M., Holt, R.D., and J.M. Fryxell (2009). Opposing rainfall and plant nutritional gradients best explain the wildebeest migration in the Serengeti. The American Naturalist 173: 431-445.

Seeing Lions: An Intern’s Experience at Noloholo’s Environmental Summer Camp

By Savannah Swinea

Savannah_and_Campers

The road we travel is so bumpy – I fear every moment that I will be thrown out into the outskirts of Tarangire National Park. But the students around me show no fear, only happiness and excitement, so I relax as we traverse the Maasai Steppe of Northern Tanzania spotting zebra, giraffe, and antelope. Suddenly, the car stops and all heads turn as we are told that lions are nearby. We see them in the distance, and the students become quiet with awe as they stare through their binoculars. I ask, “Have you ever seen lions before?” They all shake their heads, saying “no” without words. The two lionesses lie close together under the shade of an acacia tree. After a long period of silent observation, the Land Rover starts again and we continue to explore the savannah ecosystem. When we return to the campsite, it is evident that the journey has sparked the interest of the students, and their environmental teachings about these beautifully unique creatures can finally be put into the perspective of one lucky enough to see them in person.

CampLion-1_Twitter

As an intern in the Environmental Education department of the African People and Wildlife Fund, I work closely with the primary school students who venture to Noloholo as part of the environmental summer camps hosted here. The camps give top students in the area practical knowledge of their environment and how to take care of it, and sometimes provide a glimpse at the vulnerable species that become more rare every day. The students are not only intelligent and motivated but are also kind and fun-loving. I believe their sense of adventure and awareness of their environment will allow them to succeed as stewards of the country that is their home: Tanzania.

Camp kids playing at Noloholo

10 Years of People & Wildlife [VIDEO]

Full article published on National Geographic Cat Watch

Just ten years ago, two young explorers set up camp by a small acacia at the top of a hill given to them by the rural Tanzanian community of Loibor Siret. That camp was to eventually become a permanent base for the African People & Wildlife Fund’s conservation programs focusing on the lions of the Maasai Steppe – a program that now protects thousands of head of livestock and 100 lions every year with over 500 Living Walls. With one side of the hill looking to the community rangelands and the other side looking to the eastern edge of Tarangire National Park, a flagship haven for African biodiversity, the location was a perfect metaphor for the work they set out to do.

Those two explorers were Dr. Laly Lichtenfeld and Charles Trout, now directors of the African People & Wildlife Fund (APW). What started as a tent on top of a land rover has grown into an operation that spans 19 communities across 30 000 km2 of Northern Tanzanian rangelands. The small two-man tent has been replaced by the Noloholo Environmental Center, a one-of-a-kind emblem combining traditional architecture and sustainable design that stands on top of the hill where it all started and marks the organization’s headquarters in Tanzania. The newly released 2014 Annual Report highlights the milestones of the last ten years, and as we celebrate a decade of success on the Steppe we invite you to share in celebrating Big Cats and Communities in Northern Tanzania.

This video highlights the journey we have taken over these past 10 years, and the strong relationships that have stemmed from it:

New Partnership Established for Conservation in Northern Tanzania

The Tanzania People & Wildlife Fund and the Honeyguide Foundation (HGF) have launched a partnership to strengthen our joint community-based conservation initiatives across northern Tanzania.

The long-term partnership will begin with joint programming for human-wildlife conflict (HWC) prevention and evolve into a comprehensive community-based conservation collaboration.

“Conservation challenges are numerous across northern Tanzania,” said Dr. Laly Lichtenfeld, Executive Director of the Tanzania People & Wildlife Fund. “Progress at a large-scale requires the efforts of multiple partners who commit to real, functioning collaborations.”

Honeyguide Logo          TPW

Both Honeyguide and TPW have developed highly technical and proven community-based strategies for achieving these ends, including Honeyguide’s Human-Elephant Conflict (HEC) Toolkit to protect farms from elephants and other animals, and TPW’s Living Walls to protect livestock from predators, such as lions and leopards.

Our organizations work closely with individuals at the household level on HWC mitigation. In addition, we couple these critical prevention projects with training and education outreach to transform communities’ perceptions on the importance of biodiversity conservation.

Honeyguide and TPW have already begun to collaborate with communities among Enduimet WMA, Burunge WMA, the nascent Natron WMA, and the migratory corridor between the Tarangire-Manyara and Lake Natron ecosystems.

“For years, our organizations have seen the potential of partnering together,” said Damian Bell, Honeyguide’s executive director. “It has happened gradually and organically, and now we’re moving full ahead with joint programming across multiple landscapes.”

Hard-Working Hands Span Cultures and Generations to Come Together for Big Cat Conservation

140728.AfricanPeopleandWildlifeFundandDeirdreLeowinata-2-2

 

By Deirdre Leowinata, African People & Wildlife Fund

Originally posted on National Geographic Cat Watch on November 14th, 2014

Africa is the land of diversity, hosting a vast amount of biological and cultural variance within each of its 53 countries. Biologists and David Attenborough fans all over the world know it for its unique, charismatic species: The roaring, the stampeding, and the larger-than-life. Anthropologists and Human Planet fans know it for its lion hunters, its hunter-gatherers, and its fascinating traditions that have been remarkably preserved through time. As a single country, by certain measures Tanzania contains more distinct peoples and languages than there are countries in the world (see Hirst, 1972). It is a land rich in history, and draws thousands of tourists every year for a walk on the wild side.

NGTeamwork.AfricanPeopleandWildlifeFundandDeirdreLeowinata-1

Our staff at the Noloholo Environmental Center are from all over Tanzania: the slopes of Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru to the islands of Lake Victoria; the bustling metropolis of Dar es Salaam to the small rural villages surrounding our environmental center. Most tourists bypass our little corner of the country beside Tarangire National Park, but this year we benefitted from two National Geographic Student Expeditions that came from all over the world to add a little bit of big-cat- conflict education to their photo and wildlife safari.

NGSE1.CharlotteThorson_1004
(Photo by Charlotte Thorson, caption by Joseph Peralta)

Each group spent a day in the communities surrounding our Noloholo Environmental Centre building the protective enclosures for local homesteads (‘bomas’) we call Living Walls. Nothing brings people together like hard labor (except perhaps Tammy), which has a way of completely leveling social stratification. In the warm afternoon sun the same beads of sweat were glistening on the skin of the students, leaders, boma residents, office staff, field officers, and even our executive directors. As holes were dug, Commiphora poles were planted, and fencing was nailed around the enclosure, students and local community members bonded — with smiles and kind gestures when no one was available for translation.

NGSE2.Sitara Pal
(Photo by Sitara Pal, caption by Fefe Malton)

In the history of the world, ethnic diversity has not always been tied to positive things. Often, cultural differences have had negative outcomes like social and economic inequality, which has many times led to violence and suffering. On those two sizzling afternoons in Northern Tanzania, the same red earth dusted the faces and coated the multicolored hands of many regions, hands that were working together towards one goal. That goal was peace between two different kinds of neighbors: humans and wildlife.

In an area where lions and other big cats roam among the herds of Maasai cows, Living Walls reduce attacks on livestock and consequent retaliation on lions. The walls mark the union of two unique pools of knowledge, and during the wall building, those two bomas on the Maasai Steppe marked the union of many different cultures. It may have been just me, but I think I caught a glimpse of the ideal world, and it looks pretty beautiful.

You can sponsor a family’s Living Wall by donating to our program here.

NGTeamwork.AfricanPeopleandWildlifeFundandDeirdreLeowinata-3

Sources for this post:

Hirst, M.A. (1972). Tribal mixture and migration in Tanzania: an evaluation and analysis of census tribal data. Canadian Geographer 16: 230-248.

Miguel, E. (2004). Tribe or nation? Nation-building and public goods in Kenya versus Tanzania. World Politics 56: 327-362.

Maasai Steppe Warrior for Wildlife Elvis Kisimir Speaks Up for Lions

By Elvis Kisimir, African People and Wildlife Fund

*Originally posted on National Geographic Cat Watch on September 11th, 2014

“In a few years to come, the world will only see the rare lion spoor on the sandy soil. If the wind blows, then even those spoor will go.” One extraordinary Maasai warrior shares his message for the world about the future of big cats. Elvis Kisimir experiences the full extent of familial responsibility while pursuing a career in wildlife in a story about how early exposure ignited a passion that transformed into the protection of lions and rural livelihoods in Tanzania. He tells his own tale of his metamorphosis from a young schoolboy who is scared of lions to the head of Human Wildlife Conflict Prevention for the African People and Wildlife Fund, and a Disney Conservation Hero.

NG_Elvis.African People and Wildlife Fund and Deirdre Leowinata-1

My name is Elvis Kisimir. Born in Loibor Siret, and a Maasai by tribe, I love people, wildlife, and nature.

During my life I have experienced many changes in both the community and the environment that I live in. My father was a primary school teacher, and my mother was a nurse working at the health centre in the village of Emboreet who used to fly with doctors to different areas of the Maasai Steppe. When I was a young kid, sometimes if I cried, my mother would tell me, “Stop crying because the lions are behind the house.” I would stop crying immediately because I thought the lions might break into the house and take me. At that time the lions were very many, and I would hear them roaring almost every day: in the evening, at night, even early in the morning. When I met with friends to play together we always asked each other if everyone had heard the lions roaring in the night.

In 1991, my father stopped working as a primary school teacher. He took some courses on tourism and was employed as a tour guide at one of the companies in Arusha. During that time he worked very hard because he liked his new job, so I would see him a few times a year at most. I started boarding school at Simanjiro Primary School in Emboreet, and some days I would see him, in a big tourist truck or a Land Rover, stop by the school before going on to Tarangire through the Loibor Siret ranger post.

Tourism is one of the most prolific industries in Tanzania, with 15 national parks receiving around a million tourists a year. As a tour guide, Elvis’s father Lucas Ole Mukusi was required to spend weeks away from his family to show guests parks such as Tarangire National Park, Serengeti National Park, and Ngorongoro Crater (shown here), home to some of Africa’s most famous lion prides. (Photo by African People and Wildlife Fund/Deirdre Leowinata)

In December of that year, when the school was closed for Christmas, my father bought us a television. Most of the movies he bought were about wildlife  because he wanted to understand more about these animals, as this it related to his new job and he wanted his children to see how various wild animals lived. The two movies that I won’t forget are Masai Mara and Londolozi, and some of those images have stayed in my mind until now. In the Masai Mara film a girl was nearly killed by a lion when she went out to play tennis, but she was rescued by people from the house – this was the flashback that I had when my mother would tell me that the lions were behind the house waiting to break in and take me. I would sit close to my father and ask him many questions, so I came to understand many things concerning wildlife. When I asked about the girl in the Masai Mara film, he told me,“My son, this is not reality. We are living together with wildlife in our environment. You always hear lions roaring at night. They are not bad creatures unless you disturb them. According to our tradition, you can be harmed or even killed by lion if you are cursed by your clan. You are a man, and in a few years time you will become a warrior, son!”

I learned many things from my father — this was the starting point of my dreams. There was a hope in my life that one day I would be like him.

In 1998, my father decided to make Narakauo his main homestead, 15 kilometers from Loibor Siret centre. According to the Maasai tradition, the eldest son has the greatest responsibility in the family. I was the only son to my father, so I had to work hard to make sure the family was fine. I completed my high school education in 2006, after which I took over some of my father’s responsibilities, making it very difficult for me to go for further studies. The next year I got married, and here you can imagine that I needed to work very hard because the responsibilities were mounting in my day-to-day life.

Elvis leads a highly committed and effective team of Maasai Steppe Big Cat Conflict Officers who work in villages including Loibor Siret,, Narakauwo, Kimotorok, Emboret, Loibor Soit, Vilima Vitatu, Olasiti and Kakoi. In the case of a boma attack or any other incident of human-wildlife conflict, the officers are on site recording precise details in order to gather data to work towards improvements in the long term. From left to right: Saruni Moses, Lucas Lengoje, Mbayani Ngooku, Elvis Kisimir, Loomoni Ndooki, and Moson Kiroya. (Photo by African People and Wildlife Fund/Deirdre Leowinata)

In 2010 I was employed at the African People and Wildlife Fund heading the Human-Wildlife Conflict program for the organization, which has headquarters in Loibor Siret. I saw as the realization of my dreams because I had already created trust in the locals I worked with, which is very important to me. During the time I have been working under Dr. Laly and Charles, I have learned many things concerning wildlife and environment in general, and I want to thank them for all they have showed me by becoming a good local conservationist.

What I have found surprising and amazing in my work experience is when you find different reactions to incidents of human-wildlife conflict. You can find that 20 goats or sheep have been killed by hyenas and the owners don’t take immediate action, but if one juvenile lion has killed a single calf, immediately you find people gather together from different age groups. Everyone wants to listen, and it is a time when each person shows the rest how much he knows about lions. The lesson here I learned is this: The lion is the most important creature in the Maasai tradition.

NG_Elvis.African People and Wildlife Fund and Deirdre Leowinata-6

There was one day in a conversation with Dr. Laly when she said, “If you hear lions roaring, fighting for territory, that means things are balanced: rainfall, grasses, breeding…” This idea made me think back to the time when I was around 12 years old and lions were roaring almost every day in our area, the rainfall was enough for everything that needed it to survive, and many areas were still wild, with not as much human activity as nowadays.

I have discussed this with some of the adults and elders in the communities I work in, and they agree, saying, “At that time lions were everywhere. Every year we would get enough rainfall, and we didn’t have to sell cattle to buy maize because we had a lot of milk to fill ourselves, with the livestock eating well and breeding every year.”

Elvis talks to Julius, a Maasai man living in the village of Loibor Siret, after they finish his Living Wall. Elvis always makes a point to hear what each and every person has to say, which has made him not only great at his job, but a highly respected man in the region. (Photo by African People and Wildlife Fund/Deirdre Leowinata)

 

So my message to my fellow Maasai and the world in general:

“In a few years to come, the world will only see the rare lion spoor on the sandy soil. If the wind blows, then even those spoor will go.”

NG_Elvis.African People and Wildlife Fund and Deirdre Leowinata-5

The meaning of this message is that for the small number of lions we have now, for locals and the world in general, if we are not serious about protecting them, we are going to lose all of them. Avoid conflicts with them, and don’t shrink their habitat by developing human activities in their territories. If we do that, hopefully in a few years to come the new generation will both hear and see the king of the Maasai Steppe roaring.

Lastly, if there are no lions, there are no warriors. Your lion is my lion. Let’s preserve lions for the generations and generations to come.

NG_Elvis.African People and Wildlife Fund and Deirdre Leowinata-8

Three New Schools Join the Fun at 2014 Noloholo Environmental Camps

By Deirdre Leowinata

20130709-DL8

 

Summer Camp: For many, the term brings fond memories of campfires, fast friendships, ”cannon balls” into cold water, mess halls, and hiding from the counselors when they tell you to go to sleep. For many families in North America, summer camp is a given.

In the communities that we work in here on the Maasai Steppe, summer camp is a little different. For those students who participate, our Noloholo Environmental Camps are highly competitive, involving a combined evaluation from school grades in addition to two separate tests. And if they don’t study, even the best students can’t assume they will get in, with only five boys and five girls taken from each school. When they finish their tests, students wait anxiously to hear whether they will be taking the bumpy ride to camp in our trusty lorry. For those whose names are called, you will never see children run as fast to get permission forms signed by their parents. For those whose names are not called, some can try again next year, and a gentle pep talk from our Conservation Education program officer, Neovitus “Neo” Sianga, returns smiles to the children’s faces.

20140709-DL173-2

This year, we added three new primary schools to the environmental camp program: Emboret, Loibor Soit, and Mbuko. So far, we have held two weeks of camp: one for the students of Loibor Soit and Mbuko, and the second for Kangala and Emboret. As per usual, and especially for the new schools, students entered cautiously, with wary glances at unfamiliar foods (like bread and peanut butter). But also as per usual, they quickly became accustomed to camp, and the initial timidity dissolved with the small candy rewards they placed in their mouths. By the end of the week, virtually every arm went up when a question was posed.

20140709-DL104

On the list of draws for the kids, camp provides three good meals plus two snacks a day, a severe lack of chores, clean rooms to sleep in, and absolutely no physical punishment. Our Conservation Education duo consisting of Neo and Revocatus Magayane use teaching methods that are both instructive and fun, which are two words that aren’t often used in the same sentence here on the Maasai Steppe. Children receive prizes for raising their hands, games of tag teach lessons about ecological relationships, and game drives treat them to a different perspective on the wildlife that live in their own backyards. Each day, campers have lessons on topics from ecology and natural history, to project management and astronomy, while at the same time learning about what our team does here for conservation. Lessons are taught in dynamic and interactive ways that are constantly raising their confidence in important life skills such as public speaking, organization, and debate. They are exposed to role models such as our own Joyce Ndakaru and Elvis Kisimir, and on culture day, even our interns get involved in presenting their own special family traditions alongside Maasai elders. At the end of the week every attendee receives a certificate of completion, and the most actively participating boy and girl receive their deserved recognition. Each and every child goes home a little bit wiser, a little bit braver, and a little bit plumper.

It’s no wonder our camps are so popular here.

20130703-DL247

 

Climate Change Joins Lions and Livestock in an Unlikely Partnership

Originally posted on National Geographic Cat Watch

 

In the coming years, climate change will transform the world in ways that we have not predicted. The king of the big cats has already survived two major periods of change, but with humans quickly taking over valuable grassland habitat, will they be able to survive another? On the Maasai Steppe of Tanzania, lions have long shared the land with herds of cattle that require the same large tracts of grassland as they do. With a common goal, perhaps these age-old enemies can find truce – their survival might depend on it.

By Deirdre Leowinata

The rolling sea of long, golden grasses that characterize Africa’s savannas serve not only as representations of the unique ecosystems of this expansive continent but also as symbols of a quietly but precisely balanced climate. Its inhabitants, such as the thorn acacia, whose stiff barbs threaten to impale anyone who dares to let his mind wander as he walks, may be built to withstand both heat and jaws, but the combination of climate change and human population growth could threaten the resilience of the plains.

(Photo by African People and Wildlife Fund/Laly Lichtenfeld)

The modern lion, the flagship species of Africa, has already survived two global freeze-thaw cycles characterized here by rhythmic expansions and contractions of deserts and forests that separated populations, creating genetically different subspecies. Widespread aridity in northern and southern Africa during these periods reduced lion populations in these regions. Today, the estimated 32, 000 lions of the continent are sentinels of intact ecosystems, but these areas are undergoing huge changes.

Between 1960 and 2010, the human population of sub-Saharan Africa increased four-fold from 229 million to 863 million and is expected to double by 2060. In the Tarangire ecosystem of Tanzania where we work, we may have one of the remaining lion strongholds, and we are working very hard to ensure that it remains that way. Because our goal is to keep lions around for the long run, and not just the next few years, we must to take into account long-term changes, such as the potential effects of a changing climate.

(Photo by African People and Wildlife Fund/Deirdre Leowinata)

In these semi-arid landscapes, pastoralism, if done sustainably, is a productive use of land. It benefits the ecosystem and the wildlife that inhabit it through grazing movements that fertilize the soil and promote new vegetation growth. But as climates change, another creature is showing signs of peril: the Maasai cow.

Increasingly erratic rainfall is now threatening livestock populations with more frequent droughts, leaving many Maasai to rely more on small stock that have lower feed requirements such as goats and sheep. Smaller stock in larger numbers mean a faster rate of rangeland degradation, rendering the challenging task of sustainable grazing even greater as resources become scarce. In this part of Tanzania, current reports predict a 1.8- to 3.6-degree increase in temperature over the next 50 years, along with even less rainfall and a large increase in monthly evaporation. Undoubtedly, this will lead to losses in livestock and a discouraging economy for pastoralists. Contiguous rangelands will become more important than ever.

(Photo by African People and Wildlife Fund/Deirdre Leowinata)

“The paradox of pastoralism is that it needs security to protect its flexibility.” (Galvin, 2009)

A loss of water security can give families incentive to privatize grazing land and also (somewhat counter-intuitively) to start farms to supplement their livelihoods. In the poor soil and already uncertain climate of the Steppe, meager stalks of corn struggle towards the sun; want of income is quickly splitting the golden sea with stretches of attempted cultivation. Compartmentalizing the landscape means losing ecosystem function, connectivity and resilience, so small stochastic events like droughts are more likely to affect larger proportions of both livestock and wildlife, endangering the famed Maasai cattle herds and the lions they have shared the land with for so long. The bottom line: The pastoral/wildlife system that is crucial to the functioning of the Maasai Steppe will collapse unless the land can be managed to maintain the movement of both livestock and wildlife.

(Photo by African People and Wildlife Fund/Deirdre Leowinata)

The situation has resulted in a rather unusual opportunity for truce between big cats and cows. The question now is: Can predator and prey – who require the same habitat to survive – equally benefit from improved rangeland management on the Maasai Steppe?

The idea might not be so absurd, given the importance of both to rangeland inhabitants. In fact, it is a golden opportunity for conservationists to link the future of a natural, social, and cultural treasure to the continued existence of the Maasai’s greatest status symbol – the ultimate example of killing two birds with one stone. But the truth is that we are also dealing with two icons that have clashed for ages, and the quarrels may only get worse as the population grows, habitats shrink, and water becomes scarce.

(Photo by African People and Wildlife Fund/Deirdre Leowinata)

Our team at Noloholo might just be what these two particular animals need. With wildlife conservation a main priority, and happiness of the community a necessity, the lions and cattle of the Steppe are our premiere clients. Our four main programs are poised to tackle the still somewhat ethereal problem of climate change with a long-term, whole-system approach to conservation. Elvis and his expert team of Big Cat Conflict officers can mediate any squabbles while our education and conservation enterprise teams help the community not only learn the best ways to manage their rangelands, but how to do so in a manner that provides environmentally-friendly opportunities for growing economically.

Like a fable of Aesop in itself, the moral “United we conquer, divided we fall” echoes true for the inhabitants of the Steppe. Since we already know the moral, there’s no reason this story shouldn’t have a happy ending.

 

Sources for this post:

Barnett, R., Yamaguchi, N., Barnes, I., and A. Cooper (2006). The origin, current diversity, and future conservation of the modern lion (Panthera leo). Proceedings: Biological Sciences 273, 2119-2125.

Chardonnet, P. (2002). Conservation of African lion. Paris, France: International Foundation for the Conservation of Wildlife.

Creel, S., Becker, M.S., Durant, S.M., M’Soka, J., Matandiko, W., Dickman, A.J. et al. (2013). Conserving large populations of lions – the argument for fences has holes. Ecology Letters

Galvin, K.A. (2009). Transitions: Pastoralists living with change. Annual Reviews of Anthropology 38: 185-198.

Msoffe, F.U., Said, M.Y., Ogutu, J.O., Kifugo, S.C., de Leeuw, J., van Gardingen, P., and R.S. Reid (2011). Spatial correlates of land-use changes in the Maasai-Steppe of Tanzania: Implcations for conservation and environmental planning. International Journal of Biodiversity and Conservation 3: 280-290.

Msoffe, F.U., Kifugo, S.C., Said, M.Y., Neselle, M.O., van Gardingen, P., Reid, R.S., et al. (2011). Drivers and impacts of land-use change in the Maasai Steppe of northern Tanzania: an ecological, social and political analysis. Journal of Land Use Science 6: 261-281.

Packer, C., Loveridge, A., Canney, S., Caro, T., Garnett, S.T., Pfeifer, M., et al. (2012). The size of savannah Africa: a lion’s (Panthero leo) view. Biodiversity and Conservation 22: 17-35.

Riggio, J., Jacobsen, A., Dollar, L., Bauer, H., Becker, M., Dickman, A., Funston, P., Groom, R., Henschel, P., de Iongh, H., Lichtenfeld, L., and S. Pimm (2013). The size of savannah Africa: a lion’s (Panthera leo) view. Biodiversity Conservation 22: 17-35.

Schuette, P., Creel, S., & D. Christianson (2013). Coexistence of African lions, livestock, and people in a landscape with variable human land use and seasonal movements. Biological Conservation 157: 148-154.

Tadross, M., and P. Wolski (2010). Pangani River Basin Flow Assessment: Climate change modeling for the Pangani Basin to support the IWRM planning process. IUCN Water and Nature Initiative & Pangani Basin Water Board.

Turner, A., & M. Antón (1997). The big cats and their fossil relatives. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.