Universiteit van amsterdam opleiding antropologie en sociologie der niet-westerse samenlevingen

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Blessings and Burdens of Charismatic Mega-Fauna

How Taita and Maasai Communities Deal with Wildlife Protection in Kenya
Vanessa Wijngaarden

Master Thesis for the

Department of Anthropology and Sociology of Non-Western Societies

Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences, University of Amsterdam
Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Thomas Blom Hansen

Second Reader: Dr. Rob J. van Ginkel

Third Reader: Prof. Dr. Niko Besnier

June 2008


I am most indebted to the people of the communities near Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Park and Masai Mara National Reserve, who were willing to spend their time, experiences and insights with me. My deepest gratefulness is to the extended families of Mlamba and Kipeen, for all their love, help and care when they opened their homes and lives to me.

I also want to thank Don and Maryanne Goossens for providing me with a safe heaven in Nairobi and Basecamp Masai Mara and Lumo Community Wildlife Conservancy for allowing me to stay in their midst. Vincent Shimoli, Moi Kennedy, The Maasai Buffalo Dancers Cultural Group, Taita-Taveta Wildlife Forum, Koiyaki Guiding School, International Livestock Research Institute, Kecobat, Arabuko Sokoke Forest Reserve, Amboseli National Park, Lake Nakuru National Park, Mt Kenya National Park, Amara Conservation, Wildlife Works, Friends of Conservation, Taita Discovery Centre, David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, the wardens and research centers of Tsavo East, Tsavo West and Masai Mara, and the KWS Community Officers of Tsavo and Narok have all gracefully donated their time and efforts to further the research. I hope my work reaches you all safe and in good health, and will be of use in your dealings with wildlife protection.
I further want to thank the Schuurman Schimmel – van Outeren Stichting, Stichting Dr. Hendrik Muller's Vaderlansch Fonds and the University of Amstersterdam Fieldwork Fund for helping to finance this research, and the KWS Nairobi as well as the Kenyan government for allowing me to undertake it.
Last but not least I need to thank my supervisor for the time and comments he gave me despite his very busy schedule and my parents, brother and boyfriend for supporting me in this undertaking, even though that sometimes has not been the easiest role to play.
I encourage all readers to contact me with any comments or insights.

Vanessa Wijngaarden



Chapter 1 Introduction: Benefits from charismatic mega-fauna 1

KWS Wildlife Conference 1

Different stakeholders to a single resource 2

Charismatic mega-fauna 3

The Kenyan situation 4

Research question 5

Definitions 5

Methods 5

Chapter division 6
Chapter 2 Living with Wildlife 7

All is peaceful 7

The Taita near Tsavo 7

The Maasai of the Mara 10

Sharing resources 11

-Land 11

-Water 12

Direct daily conflicts 13

-Crops 13

-Livestock 14

-People 15

Defending life and property 16

-Guarding and making noise 16

-Poison, snares and traps 17

-Spears, arrows and swords 17

Box 2.1 Facing lions with a whip 18

-Coping after loss 19

Local uses of wildlife 19

-The Taita 19

Box 2.2 A witchcraft story 21

-The Maasai 22

Box 2.3 A Maasai riddle 24

The new arrogance of animals 25
Chapter 3 Dealing with Authority 27

The Kenyan state 27

The history of wildlife protection in Kenya 28

The mission of KWS 29

The KWS community wildlife service 30

Interactions between locals and KWS 31

-Compensation 32

Box 3.1 Waiting for compensation 32

-Problem animal control 33

Box 3.2 There is no help 33

-Denying access to resources 34

Box 3.3 Snaring a poacher 35

Violence in wildlife protection 35

Livelihoods at stake 36

Animals are more important than people 38

Dealing with authorities 39

-Continuing illegal use 40

-Lobbying for more benefits 40

-Killing or threatening to kill 41

The Maasai as more effective defenders 41
Chapter 4 Working with Tourism 43

Ecotourism and Kenya's charismatic mega-fauna 43

Deceptive publicity and ecotourism lite 44

Different stakeholders, different stakes 45

-The private sector: unequal partnerships 45

-The community: securing livelihoods and internal division 46

-The environment: consumptive (eco)tourism 47

-The national costs of wildlife protection 49

Why the Kenyan state protects wildlife at the costs of its people 50

-The power of international donors 50

-The Kenyan elite's ambiguous position 53

Preservation and utilitarianism revised 54

People as a component of the ecosystem 56

Living like an American 58

Tourism as a local burden 59

Maasai as charismatic mega-fauna 61

-Maasai cultural manyattas 63
Chapter 5 Conclusion: To whom do charismatic mega-fauna belong? 67

Summary 67

Discussion 67
Maps 70
Pictures 75
Bibliography 86
Chapter 1

Introduction: Benefits from charismatic mega-fauna

'Conservation offers not only benefits of saving species, habitats and ecosystems, but also preserves the biodiversity as a commodity for global consumers. Unfortunately, the costs of sustaining this commodity is borne by a localized minority who see little, if any, benefit.'

(Kimwele & Waweru et.al. 2006: 52).

KWS Wildlife Conference

It is April 2007 in Kenya. Nairobi is warm and tropical showers make their way down the paved roads and unsealed muddy streets day after day. The city centre is heavy with car fumes, thriving on bustling small businesses and the uplifting sound of loud, round the clock Lingala music. Most of the day and parts of the night the streets are so crowded that you can't move through them without constant body contact and darkness and relative silence only exist during the frequent power failures. In contrast to the city centre it is spacious and quiet along the main route leading to the outskirts of Nairobi, where the luxurious Safari Park Hotel lies. In a large air-conditioned conference room, well dressed men and women, mostly researchers, executives of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), Kenyan Wildlife Service (KWS) 1 officials and representatives of community based organisations, speak of ‘research imperatives for biodiversity conservation and management’ during the first Wildlife Conference in Nairobi organised by the KWS.

The main message of the conference is the importance of wildlife based tourism for the Kenyan economy, and the need for locals to benefit more from it. The issue that local people are a (possible) serious threat to the wildlife is regularly addressed (Bagine, Gichohi, Kaka and Western,2 see also Leach & Fairhead 2003, 2005) and directly linked to this main message, because – following community based conservation logic – more benefits from wildlife would provide locals with more interests in protecting them (Hasler 1994). Three days long the researchers, KWS officials and representatives of large international NGOs speak from the front of the huge room using powerpoint presentations, pictures and film. They tell how communities living in areas important to wildlife lack involvement (Bagine, Njogu), need incentives for (Gichohi) and education on conservation (Kiaru, Leitoro, Maniafu) or boldly state that these people should stop having too many babies (Rodgers). Ottichilo summarizes many points of view when he says: ‘We need to teach communities so they learn how to use their resources.’

Local people from community based organisations and smaller, mostly African NGOs have their stands at the coffee hall outside the conference room, where they network and provide information on a small scale using displays, flyers and sign-up lists during recesses. Being part of the audience during the large plenary presentations and discussions, they listen relatively quietly, although some reservations and objections to what is being said to the large public, are expressed during small scale recess interactions. Slowly the tension is rising, and after two days the intimidating seize of the location, high status of the speakers, huge buffet lunches and drinks, jokes and entertainment included in the conference cannot prevent any more that people from the communities present begin to speak back.

A Maasai man wearing a traditional bright red blanket asks questions about serious reprisals by the government on Maasai men who have killed lions. He also complains about the Maasai not having any land any more. The KWS answers ‘sorry for you’, saying the Maasai ‘should have bought land and benefited when it was the right time.’ But the spark fuels the next question: How much does the KWS actually spend on the community? KWS official Odongo points to the Ksh 50 million (US$ 750.000)3 a year KWS spends on social responsibility. He adds that many (local) people are not well informed and that KWS tries to reach out to them and can assist them with initiatives, but that they need to write a proposal. Than he announces that he will soon close the session and will have room for one more question. A person who called him a fence-sitter while he was responding to these earlier questions now makes his excuses, but comes back to the 50 million mentioned by Odongo, stating that the amount is only a very small percentage of the Ksh 2 billion (US$ 30 million) the KWS makes yearly. Odongo reacts with an exacter number of '52 million from July to date'. Immediately he goes on, saying that these kind of discussions are helping, and tells the people they should not think that they are not given the opportunity to speak. However, he cuts further comments short by stating that the traditional ‘baraza4 [style of discussing] has no value. All that is not written down is not worth anything.’ Thereupon the representatives of Birdlife, a large international NGO and main sponsor of the conference, load their film on bird migration routes and start their presentation.

During other difficult moments when community members raise issues, the KWS appeals to its authority as a scientifically based organisation, as organiser of the conference and as the sponsor of projects. It cuts people short, saying only diplomatic language can be used and names of certain people relating to certain situations cannot be mentioned. They carefully orchestrate the opening and closing of the discussions, the composition of resolutions with a select number of conference participants and the production of the memorandum of understanding. During the final stages of the conference a community representative gets several minutes to make a statement in front of the entire conference room. A Tanzanian is making the statement, because according to the chair, no one suitable from Kenya could be found. Thereafter someone from the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife shows up and promises ‘the implementation and incorporation of some of the issues talked of here’. The conference and the participation are praised and KWS closes by saying: ‘We cannot afford to compete against each other. The only road is to complement each other. We cannot afford to abuse each other.’

Different stakeholders to a single resource

At the Wildlife Conference there are roughly three types of stakeholders. The international stakeholders who take on the role as sponsors and funders – of the KWS, the conference itself and many community based organisations – are mainly large international NGOs which are concerned with the preservation of wildlife as an international heritage. Second there is the national government, largely represented by the KWS, which is mostly occupied with the value of wildlife for the Kenyan economy.5 Thirdly the locals, who have organised themselves in smaller NGOs, mostly in the form of community based organisations, are mainly interested in the positive and negative impacts of wildlife on their daily livelihoods. These various stakeholders are complexly intertwined. For instance, the national government also takes part in funding the community based organisations, and many KWS employees are also locals of some area in Kenya. However, focusing upon three groups of stakeholders helps to explain the tensions as well as the agreements visible during the conference, and in wildlife related issues more generally.

Wildlife is a resource on the local but also on the national and international level. Locally, it can be a source of meat and other products as well as money, and be of symbolic value, for instance during ceremonies. Nationally wildlife can be an important source of foreign exchange, a much sought for resource by Third World countries. On the international level, the animals have a recreational value as part of the international heritage of mankind, for instance in the form of tourism. It is not surprising that these different values of charismatic mega-fauna cannot always be exploited simultaneously. This often leads to oppositions of interests, in which the use of the animals by one 'party' limits the possibilities of use by the other (zero-sum game). During the Wildlife Conference, this is what leaded to tension.

However, there are also several situations in which the use of wild animals on the one level does not compromise, or even helps to facilitate the use of the same resource on other levels (positive-sum game). Often tourism is put forward as a way to use wildlife which can provide benefits on all levels (Bonner 1998, Sinclair 1994): Tourism is an international use of wildlife which is generally regarded as non-consumptive. In addition it can provide states with a considerable amount of foreign exchange while at the same time having the potential to be a profitable extension of livelihoods for the locals.

Unfortunately, there are some reservations to this solution. Generally the money brought in by tourism is by large not enough to compensate the national and local level for the associated costs and loss of resources when wildlife is solely used as a tourist attraction (Bonner 1994: 68, Sinclair 1998: 38-40, Western 1998: 1509). Concerning the wildlife resource it can be argued that 'the costs of conservation weigh heavily on the local people while benefits are dispersed nationally and globally' (Kimwele & Waweru et.al. 2006: 52). In general 'tourism is neither a cheap nor a generally beneficial option for residents of developing countries' (Sinclair 1998: 40). In this thesis I will provide insights in how this situation is created locally, nationally and internationally, and how local communities deal with it. In the next paragraphs I will make clear how I narrowed down the scope of the research to focus on charismatic mega-fauna and two communities in Kenya, and come to my research question.
Charismatic mega-fauna

Charismatic mega-fauna is a concept generally used to refer to large mammals that attract international revenue, for instance in the form of tourism.6 What is special about these animals is that they are generally seen as ‘the common heritage of mankind and … not merely resources for the exclusive use of certain countries or particular groups of people’ (Freeman and Kreuter 1994: 9, see also Bonner 1994: 69, Quammen 2006: 68-73). They are animals of high charisma, which enjoy public recognition and a high media profile, and are often portrayed in anthropomorphic terms to increase public identification (Freeman & Kreuter 1994: 7). In Kenya examples of charismatic mega-fauna are lions, leopards, cheetahs, buffalos, elephants and wildebeest during their great migration.

I have focussed my research on charismatic mega-fauna because of all wildlife, the tension between these creatures as a common heritage as well as a national and local resource is most clear. Internationally, charismatic mega-fauna are generally used as 'conservation symbols' (Freeman & Kreuter 1994: 7). As large animals, they are in need of a considerably large amount of natural wealth in order to survive, and are often used as a symbol and indicator of this wealth. As a result of their grandeur, they are animals that are very well known and stand close to the Western public through visual media focussed on conservation and entertainment and as objects of tourism bringing 'experiences of a lifetime' (Parkinson et.al. 2006: 73, Rutten 2002: 22).

Locally, charismatic mega-fauna often stand on top or near the top of the food chain. As such they have a considerable influence upon the landscape in which they live and the inhabitants they share their living space with. Charismatic mega-fauna are the animals African communities find around (and sometimes in) their fields and corals as self-evident parts of their daily lives, and the animals which most dramatically can be a direct threat to life and property. As influential, large and impressive creatures, charismatic mega-fauna often form important components of ceremonies and mythologies (Hasler 1994, Freeman & Kreuter 1994: 7, Kisangani 1994). Finally, charismatic mega-fauna are also used by the Kenyan state as icons to communicate the richness of the country to a domestic public (for instance on the national coins and banknotes) and even more strongly, to a foreign public (mainly with regard to wildlife related tourism).

The Kenyan situation

In Kenya (map 1.1), local communities are of very high importance for the continued existence of wildlife, as 70 to 80% of the wild animals live outside the county's protected areas (Bonner 1994: 70, Kimwele et.al. 2006: 13, KWS 1994: i, Njogu 2003: 135, Western 1998: 1507). Kenya's network of national parks and national reserves covers 8% of the country's land surface (Kimwele & Waweru et.al. 2006: 6, Njogu 2003; 130, Western 1998: 1508), but also outside protected areas, Kenya's wildlife enjoys a protected status. As even the largest parks such as Tsavo East, comprising of 13,747 square km (Ndioo 2007: 19), do not provide enough biodiversity to support the broad range of Kenya's wild animals, nor facilitate for its lengthy seasonal migrations (Benischke et.al 1998: 1510, Kimwele & Waweru et.al. 2006: 6, 50, Njogu 2003: 136, Myers 1972: 1255, Raven 1998: 1510, Western 1998: 1509), local communities have to deal with the gross of Kenya's wildlife on the land that supports their livelihoods.

The insight of the importance of the 'hinterlands' surrounding parks in supporting the wildlife population, and therefore the importance of cooperation from local communities, are not new (Myers 1972). In 1979 Western and Henry already wrote that 'if [a park] has little relevance or benefit for the local populace, even if it does for the national government... [t]his inevitably alienates the parks from the very populations on which they are most dependent for their survival [1979: 417]. Over time, this awareness led to several strategies mainly focussed upon incentives for local people. Central was the idea that if local people make use of and benefit from the natural resources, they would have a positive incentive to protect their long term survival (Hasler 1994).

However, many local people in the nature-rich Third World countries still suffer instead of benefit from the conservation of the natural resources surrounding them (Kimwele & Waweru et.al. 2006: 51-52, Sinclair 1998: 40).7 In Kenya, a recent study by ActionAid International8 concludes: 'There's no doubt that communities on wildlife-range land bear the costs of harbouring these animals' (Kimwele & Waweru et.al. 2006: 50). Overall the study estimated a 25% reduction in annual income (ibid. 51) and considerate loss of life (ibid. 53), combined with 'little, if any, benefit. Where benefits accrue, they're unequally distributed and hardly outweigh costs' (ibid. 49) which leads to a 'painful experience of neglect in the face of destruction of livelihood and lives by wildlife' (Kimwele & Waweru et.al. 2006: v).

According to this study, the distribution of benefits that occurred varied greatly across Kenya. The differences between two districts, both home to some of the most important and well earning protected areas in the county, proved interesting (map 1.2). One of the worst scoring with regard to benefits was the district of Taita-Taveta, harbouring Tsavo West as well as Tsavo East (map 1.3), the last being the largest and most profitable national park of Kenya with an estimated income of Ksh 500 million (US$ 7.5 million) last financial year (Ndioo 2007: 19). Nevertheless, the majority of respondents reported no benefits from wildlife at all (Kimwele & Waweru et.al. 2006: 53) and according to its inhabitants, Taita-Taveta remains one of the poorest districts in the country and frequently relies on food-aid.9

In contrast, the people of Narok district (map 1.4), home to the world famous Masai Mara National Reserve, also good for at least Ksh 500 million (US$ 7.5 million) per year (Kimwele & Waweru et.al. 2006: 27, Walpole & Leader-Williams 2001: 771), were scoring relatively best, with 63% of the respondents reporting benefits. As opposed to wildlife related benefits, wildlife related problems were common everywhere. Of all respondents, from nine different districts in four of Kenya's eight provinces, 97%, had suffered losses in property caused by wildlife, non of them being compensated for by law (Kimwele & Waweru et.al. 2006: 53). Concerning their similar proximity to high earning nationally protected areas and the large difference in reported benefits, it would be interesting to compare how the locals of Taita-Taveta near Tsavo and the locals of Narok near Masai Mara deal with the costs of harbouring wild animals.

Research question

Research Question: How do the Maasai and Taita peoples living adjacent to Masai Mara National Reserve and Tsavo East and West National Park deal with the burden protected charismatic mega-fauna lay upon their livelihoods?

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