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Tag Archives: Living Walls
Yohana Lojumbutwa has been living in his boma for eighteen years. He used to protect his seventy head of cattle with the dry, feeble thorn bushes used by the majority of Maasai pastoralists. But recently, he installed the last component of his new Living Wall.
APW designed its Living Walls to protect big cats, people and livestock while preserving the environment. Since our first installation in 2008, they have done just that.
Cloaked in his bright blue shuka, Yohana greets us warmly at his boma with his sons and nephews. Around the cattle corral, newly planted Commiphora africana poles are ready for binding with chain-link fencing. It took Yohana three weeks to cut the branches of mature Commiphora trees, find a tractor to haul them to his boma and wait for the branches to dry before planting them around his boma. This may seem like a long time, but he won’t have to do it again for at least another 25 years.
“Prior to my Living Wall, I had to replace the thorn bushes around my corral every three months. It takes three weeks just to get enough thorns because all the bushes in the area are gone,” Yohana said. Like many other Maasai households, Yohana’s wives and the elders at his boma are responsible for replacing the thorny bush fences. As time passes, the women and elders have to travel farther and farther to get the bushes because the closest ones were cut long ago – a classic case of deforestation.
The Commiphora trees used to reinforce the chain-link fencing for Living Walls are branches or cuttings from mature trees. The “parent” tree isn’t cut down or killed in the process. Our technique helps to prevent habitat loss and further deforestation, in fact we are increasing the number of trees on the Steppe. Livestock owners dry the Commiphora branches for about a week and then plant them around the boma.
“It’s extremely hard work cutting the thorns for traditional bomas,” Yohana said. Remarking on his new Living Wall, he adds, “Not only are the women happy, but I am happy too because now the cattle can’t break out of the boma and I don’t have to collect them when they do.” Yohana isn’t sure how many times carnivores attacked his cattle over the years. But, he says the majority of the attacks happen when the cattle break out of the boma and run off into the open fields and grasslands. Earlier in the year, he lost two cows to lions that had attacked the herd after they had escaped from the boma.
“There isn’t anyone who doesn’t want a Living Wall. Everyone with a boma wants a wall,” Yohana said with a wide grin as the last foot of chain-link was nailed into a commiphora post.
A post by Jennifer Chin, APW summer intern and recent graduate of Duke University’s MEM/MBA joint-degree program.
No rain for eight months. This is a fact of life on Tanzania’s Maasai Steppe. The red-dirt roads crack in the dry air like aging skin, and the grasses and trees bake into endless shades of brown and gold. Maasai herders drive their treasured livestock far across village rangelands, seeking pasture. The wild savannah predators – lion, hyena, leopard, wild dog, cheetah – approach livestock enclosures and herds at pasture, seeking easy prey. It is a well-known recipe for conflict: predators eat livestock, herders hunt down predators.
In the midst of the long, dry season, I became an intern with the African People & Wildlife Fund (APW), traveling three hours southwest from Arusha to the Maasai village of Loibor Siret. Twelve years ago, APW co-founder, Dr. Laly Lichtenfeld, began working in and around Tarangire National Park. She sought a resolution to the human-wildlife conflicts that were causing approximately 40 lions deaths every year. APW is now a permanent fixture east of Tarangire, making daily investments into big cat conservation and community development. Their locally-produced solution to livestock loss, “Living Walls,” is internationally recognized for its contributions to lion conservation. As a result, APW advises nearly every major environmental decision made in the region.
My work for APW made the most of my MBA/MEM from Duke University. I built financial models to measure potential community profit from wildlife-based tourism, delivered business planning and teamwork training to groups of local leaders, and developed a social survey to measure income from agricultural activities. The goal of my work was to generate higher, environmentally-sustainable incomes throughout the region. In return, Loibor Siret residents welcomed me and my work with warmth and true pleasure.
For decades, conservationists have battled to deliver solutions for local communities that (1) impart financial and social value to threatened wildlife, and (2) generate economic benefits. Experts agree that project failure is most often tied directly to an insufficient understanding of each community’s unique capacities. What APW does – and what I believe is the biggest opportunity for other NGOs – is to make a crucial investment in building trust and mutual understanding on a social level. Once the region saw APW as a member of their own community, they became willing to contribute opinions, expertise and local leadership, thus fully participating in solutions that work for wildlife and for the community.
On a nighttime drive toward the end of my stay, we startled a young lion in the long, whispering grasses. He leapt to his feet as our Land Rover jostled to a stop, his belly full from a recent feast. We caught a glimpse of his wide eyes in the moonlight, glinting back at us, before he vanished into darkness. Why does The Nature Conservancy partner with APW? Together, they and other partners can save the life of that wild lion, while still increasing social and economic benefits to pastoralists through wildlife conservation.
Last year, TNC and APW facilitated the creation of a village Resource Management Action Plan. This process helped community representatives prioritize natural resource interventions, and sparked the formation of a committee that will provide leadership and accountability as the plan is implemented. Their work will advance watershed protection, develop women’s business skills, and improve grazing area demarcation. APW and TNC are now supporting the committee and the village while they register as a formal government-recognized entity, in an ongoing collaboration to preserve the Steppe’s resources for generations to come.
“Did you see me use the hammer?” asks one of the women we set out to empower and teach about HIV/AIDS during our first ever, all-women Living Wall installation event.
Given that HIV/AIDS is a problem across Tanzania and realizing that its more difficult for environmental conservation to be carried out by an unhealthy population, we are now bridging the gap between health and the environment through our Living Walls program. (Living Walls are environmentally-friendly livestock enclosures that keep cattle safe from lions and other large carnivores, thereby drastically reducing the number of retaliatory killings of big cats and other species.)
The August 18th event began with our Peace Corps Volunteer, Kelly Thayer, teaching community members about HIV transmission and protection, comparing the protection of their bodies with the protection of their animals. Lively debate and discussion about HIV culminated in everyone learning how to protect themselves from HIV, for example by practicing safe sex.
Next, the women took up hammers and nails and constructed a Living Wall by themselves (following a brief instruction by the head of our Living Wall installation team, Juma Nne). The men and women in attendance recognized that women can do anything they set their minds to, including protecting their animals from predators and themselves from HIV. As women are at higher risk for HIV transmission and are a powerful force behind community development, this lesson was one of the biggest take home messages.
All were welcome to participate though some were shy at first. A young Maasai girl about 20 years of age was wandering by and entered the boma where the event was taking place. She was welcomed to join the ladies but was very reluctant to do so at first, hiding behind a tree. However, seeing the adult ladies discussing HIV helped her warm to the idea and in the end she sat with them and engaged in the conversation.
All the attendees left the event with a fistful of condoms, HIV knowledge, and the empowerment that comes with constructing a Living Wall.