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

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  • With the Maasai10 I mean the people belonging to the Maasai tribe, a traditionally semi-nomadic pastoral people which form the most dominant ethnic group living near the Masai Mara.11

  • With the Taita I mean the people belonging to the Taita tribe, an agricultural people who's main crop is maize, and who form the main population of the Tsavo area sandwiched between Tsavo East and Tsavo West.

  • Masai Mara National Reserve, Tsavo East National Park and Tsavo West National Park are the areas as protected by Kenyan law (map 1.2-1.4).

  • Charismatic mega-fauna are large mammals that attract international attention, for instance in the form of revenues through tourism. The most used examples are elephants and whales.

  • Livelihoods can be defined as 'the ways in which a social group supports itself within an environment while providing the necessities of life – including sustenance, housing and health/welfare' (Marks 2001: 125).


The most important source of data for this research have come from five months of ethnographic fieldwork in Kenya between April and September 2007. I conducted a total of 136 semi-structured interviews, almost all done in the two areas near the Tsavo National Parks and the Masai Mara National Reserve. Most important were the interviews with victims of human-wildlife conflict (numbering 38 in the Taita area and 41 in the Maasai area) for which almost everyone in the localities visited qualified. Some of these interviews were done in small focus groups to give people the chance to react, supplement and correct each other, and I organised one baraza which was attended by 58 locals.

These interviews were supplemented by interviews with local experts, such as those involved in community based organisations, local storytellers, local KWS employees and officials as well as managers, owners and employees of local wildlife related tourism businesses. The interviews were done mostly in English, Swahili, Taita and Maa. When the interviews were done in Swahili, I combined my own understandings with the ones of my local interpreter. When the informants preferred to speak their tribal language I had to rely on the translations of my interpreters almost completely.

Possibly even more important than the interviews was the information obtained through participant observation. This term refers to the informal field methods which form the basis of anthropological research and aim at 'enter[ing] as deeply as possible into the social and cultural field one researches' (Eriksen 2001: 26). In practice it means taking part in local life as much as possible, becoming an insider, so that in the area of fieldwork life largely goes on as usual. For me this involved learning Swahili, living under largely the same circumstances (housing, food, transportation) as the local people, undertaking small jobs in the field of agriculture and animal husbandry as well as daily household chores, attending ceremonies, church and baraza, accepting kinship roles and becoming involved in friendships, while observing and recording day to day situations, behaviour and conversations. These involvements in daily life helped me deal with the difficulties that my initially most prominent identity of a relatively wealthy, educated white person, meant for obtaining information from local people.

In the Taita area (map 1.5) I lived with a family in a small rural village in between Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Park, near the Maungu – Kasigau dirt road for two months. From there I visited the surrounding areas of Taita-Taveta district. In addition I spent a week staying with a Maasai family on Mbirikani group ranch in neighbouring Kajiado district (see map 1.3), between Tsavo West and Amboseli National Park. In Narok district I did my research mainly inside Koiyaki Group Ranch directly bordering the Masai Mara National Reserve (map 1.6). I spent a month in a tourist tented camp with mainly Maasai staff and lived with a family in a Maasai homestead for six weeks. In addition to these stays, relatively short periods of participant observation occurred during (multi-)day trips with rangers and KWS community officers in both districts, stays at community based conservation projects and visits to protected areas. The fieldwork data is supplemented by academic literature as well as publications in African journals, local and national newspapers. In addition I made use of KWS, government and NGO publications, statistics and research materials, as well as flyers and newsletters.
Chapter division

Each chapter adds a layer of complexity. Moving from the local, to the national and international sphere, the point of view of the Maasai and Taita communities remain central in each chapter. After this introduction, the second chapter focuses on charismatic mega-fauna as a local resource and burden, describing the daily interactions between the communities and the wildlife. It gives insight in the impacts of, and reactions on daily human-wildlife conflict, as well as the material and symbolic value and use of wildlife by the locals. The third chapter deals with the implications of wildlife as a national resource. First, it describes the Kenyan state and its dealings with wildlife. Than it moves towards the wildlife related interaction between locals and authorities, highlighting the locals' point of view. Chapter four focuses on charismatic mega-fauna as an international resource and its daily implications for local people. Highlighting the realities of and forces behind (eco)tourism, it shows the costs the industry lays upon the community as well as how local people strategically put to use the opportunities it brings. Summarizing the preceding chapters, in the conclusion I hope to have explained how the national and international value of charismatic mega-fauna can make it a burden on local livelihoods. Most importantly, I hope to have provided insight in how local people deal with this burden, in large part by strategically trying to tap wildlife's value potential on different levels.

Chapter 2

Living with Wildlife
'This place is also for animals. Animals are always here…. We have never been in peace with the animals, it is just a matter of living together with them.'

Partalala Ole Sakat12

All is peaceful

It is hot, like every day, and 28 year old Margaret Munga bare footedly follows the labyrinth of small sandy walking paths that lead her through the prickly bushes from the water point to her house, with one hand balancing the twenty litre jerrycan on her head. She is followed by a small girl carrying another 10 litres; their faces show the strength it costs to keep the water balanced and moving while drops drip down over their faces. It is a long way to the water point, some girls and women walk for three hours every day to fetch a load that is to supply all household members. But when Margaret is greeted by asking her if there is any news, she politely answers ‘salama’, which means that all is peaceful.

When we arrive at the small neatly swept compound surrounding the grass roofed hut we are greeted by Margaret’s sister Agnes, and some of the children of the 13 person household. The elephants have visited again last night and Margaret alone has lost two sacks of maize which are supposed to make up the staple food for her and her children. Buffalo already ate a large part of her maize plants when they were still young and looked like green grass, and now the elephants keep eating her almost fully grown crops. ‘We are born here and it was already a problem when we were small,' Margaret tells us. 'They come at night, and we hear them when we sleep, but we cannot see them because we have no lights to shine far. We used to bang the tins and they used to respond well, but now if we do it the elephants just come to us instead of running away, and they are very dangerous’.13

This short description shows something about the day to day circumstances under which Kenyan people living near protected areas live, and the extension of the wildlife induced problems. As will become clear not only the problems with food and physical safety, but also the problems related to water supply are largely the result of sharing the area with wildlife, as will become clear later in this chapter. Moreover, this narrative provides some insight in the lengthy character of these problems as well as the changes the locals perceive in the attitude of the wild animals. In the rest of this chapter I will first introduce the Taita and Maasai peoples and their living circumstances. Than I will move on to describe the human wildlife conflict they experience, as well as the ways in which the people defend themselves. Next I will say something about the material and symbolic uses of wildlife by the Taita and Maasai, and conclude on their relationship with the wildlife they share their homes with.

The Taita near Tsavo

The lands where the Taita (Wataita or βadaβida (Smith 2001: 454) live are in Taita-Taveta district, an area of circa 5000 km within the Coast Province in south-eastern Kenya (Smith & Kasiki 2000: vi), almost being surrounded by Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Parks (see map 1.4). Tsavo National Park was established in 1948 and separated in East and West along the Nairobi-Mombasa railway line for administrative purposes. Together the sections form the largest national park in Africa, comprising of 20,766 km², about half the size of the Netherlands (Njogu 2003: 106, TDC n.d.: 14). Tsavo West in the South borders the Tanzanian Mkomazi Game Reserve. The Tsavo ecosystem is home to the largest population of elephants in the country (Smith & Kasiki 2000: 14). The climate is characterized by two rainy seasons, from November to December and March to May, with a yearly mean of 550mm, but rainfall varies considerably in its spatial and temporal distribution (Smith & Kasiki 2000: 15). 92% of the Taita area is known as an arid area (Njogu 2003: 26), with temperatures ranging from a maximum of 33ºC in March to a minimum of 20ºC in July (Smith & Kasiki 2000: 15), and is covered mainly in grassland and mixed Commiphora-Acacia woodlands (Njogu 2003: 30-31, Smith & Kasiki 2000: 17).

Originally the Taita lived in mud-walled houses with grass roofs on the slopes of three groups of mountains known as the Taita hills, which are more humid, temperate and fertile than the lowlands, rising about 1500 metres above the general landscape. As they continue to do up till today, they grew beans, sweet potatoes, cassava, peas and fruits in their gardens, in addition to their most important crop maize (Fleuret & Fleuret 1991: 93-94, Njogu 2003: 71). The Taita grazed their livestock, consisting of cattle, goats and sheep, on the dry and flat planes between the mountains (Njogu 2003: 71) which was than known as the Taru desert (picture 2.1). Here the Taita also hunted a variety of wild animals to contribute to their food supply.

In the 16th century people began to migrate down from the mountains to the less fertile plains (Monge 2001), and have continued to do so (pictures 2.2, 2.3) as a result of population pressure and the government handing out land in the form of group ranches or individual plots (Fleuret & Fleuret 1991: 92-93, Njogu 2003: 120-121). On the plains they mixed with other tribes, such as the Kamba, Taveta, Maasai and Mijikenda (Njogu 2003: 66), the last ones referred to as Duruma by the Taita (see also Njogu 2003: 65). The Waata elephant hunters, who originally inhabited the plains of Tsavo, their diet and migration fully dependent on herds of elephants, have integrated with all these populations before and after the establishment of Tsavo National Park and the bans on hunting strongly influenced their livelihoods (Njogu 2003: 108, Ville 1996). According to the latest census available, which is from 1989, the Taita make up over 70% of the population (Njogu 2003: 66).14

The Taita are mostly known for their traditional custom to collect the skulls of their ancestors in rockshelter shrines (Monge 2001) using their deceased family members as intermediaries in their contacts with God.15 These days Christianity has become prominent in the daily lives of many Taita, and polygamy and cattle raids have been abandoned (Njogu 2003: 70, 73). However, witchcraft (uchawi or usaβi) is still a common concern (Smith 2001), and involves spirits (majini or visugha), and charms (irizi) used by witchdoctors in jealousy, causing bad luck or illness. Traditionally having a loose political structure (Njogu 2003), authority within the community has always been strongly based on age. The Christian missionaries facilitated for the appointment of chiefs (Njogu 2003 75-77), and these are still important as local authorities today.

The human population of Taita-Taveta has steadily increased from 101.050 in 1948 (density 4.7/km²) to 393.250, according to the last estimation in 1997 (18.3/km²), with an annual growth rate of 3.8% in 1997 (Smith & Kasiki 2000: vi, 18-19). Circa 90% of the Taita Taveta population are rural residents mainly depend on crop farming. In addition, 80% of these people rear small stock and poultry (Njogu 2003: 85-86), and supplement their income by wage-employment of the (young) men. As local unemployment is estimated to be as high as 70%16 (Njogu 2003: 86) some try to set up a small shop (Smith 2001: 430) or bar in one of the local villages, but 84% of wage-employment takes place outside the district (Njogu 2003: 89), mostly in the larger centres of Kenya (Fleuret & Fleuret 1991: 94, Njogu 2003: 83, 87-89, Smith 2001: 427,430). Often household incomes do not suffice,17 (Njogu 2003: 87, 91), and reliance on relief food is common. Bad harvests are partly due to cyclical droughts, the marginality of the land, population pressure and human wildlife conflict (Njogu 2003: 25, 81-82, 92, 119-121, Smith & Kasiki 2000: 15-19).

The Maasai of the Mara

Initially only comprising the Mara Triangle, the Masai Mara Game Reserve was extended to encompass the plains east of the Mara River in 1961, but did not exclude settlement and grazing, until it was redesignated the Masai Mara National Reserve in 1976 (Lamprey & Reid 2004: 1007-1010). The Mara area receives between 600mm and 1000mm of rainfall each year, divided in the short rains from October to November and long rains between March and May, which makes it a semi-arid to sub-humid zone. The main vegetation consists of acacia woodlands, bushlands and riverine forest (Lamprey & Reid 2004: 1001-1002).

Together with the adjoining Serengeti in Tanzania, the Masai Mara National Reserve forms 'a natural ecosystem containing the largest concentration of wildlife anywhere in Africa and accommodating the greatest land migration of animals anywhere in the world' (Honey 1999: 201). However, this migration has not always been part of the Mara ecosystem. Only after the eradication of rinderpest by a 1963 vaccination campaign the wildebeest population increased beyond a million. The Serengeti migration started spilling into the Mara in Kenya since 1969 (Lamprey & Reid 2004: 1016).

The Maasai are the major inhabitants of the area surrounding the Mara. They are a Maa speaking people18 of Nilotic origin (Lamprey & Reid 2004: 1002). Traditionally almost all of the Maasai are pastoralists (Spear & Waller 1993, Sutton 1993), which are people who ‘live on the products of their domestic animals [often in] arid environments or areas of scarce resources’ (Fratkin 1997: 235). They used to live almost entirely of the milk and meat of their cattle, which is supplemented by products of their smaller stock, such as goats and sheep and since some years sometimes even chickens. In addition rice, ugali, a porridge made out of maize flour, potatoes, beans and sometimes other vegetables have become part of their diet (Rigby 1985: 59-60).

Before colonial rule started in 1885 Maasai herders lived on the Rift Valley savannah plains from Lake Turkana in northern Kenya to the Maasai Steppe in Central Tanzania. They were pushed southward by the British in 1911 and lost most of their land to settler ranches and the creation of game parks, under which the Masai Mara. The Maasai have been structured loosely politically consisting of eleven independent sections (iloshon), which occupy different areas, and have specific dialects, rituals and ceremonial procedures (Lamprey & Reid 2004: 1002). The people now inhabiting the Mara area are mostly of the il-Purko section,19 who largely occupy Northern and Central Narok District. They were relocated to this area from the Northern Maasai reserve in Laikipia by the colonial authorities in 1913. From the current border of the Masai Mara Reserve they were soon forced northwards because of the expansion of Tsetse fly, causing sleeping sickness. Only when the woodlands were opened up by Maasai use of fire and increased elephant activity, people were able to settle in the lands directly adjoining the Mara.

A Maasai il-Purko compound (enkangitae, picture 2.4) resides around the central boma (enkang), the coral where the Zebu cows (picture 2.5) are kept at night. The goats and sheep (picture 2.6) sleep in a smaller boma on the side of the central boma. This boma is traditionally made using a certain species of bush to form a circle-like barrier. In a circle around the boma the houses are build. The Maasai still practice polygamy and each wife has her own house, which she builds herself, using a mixture of mud and cowdung (picture 2.7), which is spread upon a wooden skeleton (Ndagala 1992: 126-128) Compounds have recently become smaller, and more focussed on the family instead of clan or age-set relationships, as used to be the case when the warrior (ilmurran) age-set20 still practised its famous cattle raids (Reid & Chapman 1997). This development is one of the consequences of subdivision of the groupranches and the resulting increase in individual landownership (Thompson n.d.: 19, Lamprey & Reid 2004).

As the Maasai still practice polygamy, a family often consists of a man and his wives and their children. Sometimes a son that has married also lets his wive(s) build their house(s) in their father’s compound and regularly two brothers combine their households in one village (see also Ndagala 1992: 53-59, 148). The il-Purko have little transhumance as other Maasai sections do and traditionally occupy their boma permanently for five to ten years, constructing temporary livestock camps when livestock is taken to far off grazing areas (Lamprey & Reid 2004: 1002).

Whether traditional life was centered mainly on livestock, nowadays per capita livestock holdings in the Mara area have declined below minimum subsistence levels (Lamprey & Reid 2004: 1020), even if most Maasai still claim livestock is most important to them in life. Population growth has an estimated rate of 3,4% - 4.4% per year (Thompson n.d.: 19, Lamprey & Reid 2004: 1012), and people are diversifying their income, by engaging themselves in cultivation and the tourism industry. Some towns have developed, where small businesses such as shops, restaurants and bars have been set up. Traditionally relying on magic, now Christian religion and the dispensary in town have become important parts of daily life. In general however, public facilities in the areas of health, transportation and education remain quite limited.

Sharing resources


The largest and most obvious resource that the Taita and Maasai share with the wildlife is land. The land on which the communities live is so vital for Kenya's wild animals as a dispersal area that the country's protected areas are largely unfenced.21 Wildlife normally thus moves freely between parks and community areas, and at times is more abundant inside than outside the protected area (Reid et. al. 2003: 13, 129). As people are not allowed to live or walk into the national parks and national reserves,22 these areas are not available for them to live on or use directly. This means people are 'denied access to former grazing land, traditional holy shrines and water sources and prevented from gathering products for food and house construction' (Smith & Kasiki 2000: 20). Protected areas and land surrounding tourist accommodations mostly go by the same rules, and with the founding of new conservancies up to today considerable amounts of people are being displaced, some holding title-deeds to their land and strongly resisting moving (see also KWS 1994: 8, Norton-Griffiths 2006 in press: 8).23

How large the percentage of land that is set aside for animals sometimes is, can be seen in Taita-Taveta, where 62% of the district's land consists of the national parks Tsavo East and Tsavo West and the remaining 38%24 harbours conservancies such as Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary, Taita-Rukinga Wildlife Sanctuary, Lumo Community Wildlife Sanctuary as well as other protected areas (see landuse on map 1.5), under which 26 gazetted forests (Njogu 2003: 104-122).25 It is not surprising therefore, that squatting of land takes place near the borders of areas reserved for wildlife, such as Rukinga (see also Njogu 2003: 112). The situation for smallholding farms in the Taita area is being described by some as 'near landlessness' (Njogu 2003: 119).

In addition, the problems with wildlife prevent many locals to use their land to its full potential. Agriculture is always a more profitable land-use option than livestock rearing (Norton-Griffiths et.al. 2006 in press: 32).26 For the Mara area27 for instance, potential livestock rents (that is the returns after all expenses of production and marketing have been met) are only 20% of potential agricultural rents (Norton-Griffiths et.al. 2006 in press: 5).28 It is no surprise that many Maasai have started to use (part of) their land for agriculture (Lamprey n.d.), because 'agricultural returns overwhelm those from either livestock or wildlife' (Norton-Griffiths et.al. 2006: 13, see also Campbell 2003). However, after several seasons many Maasai29 have given up planting and the hope for a more beneficial food source for their families, because of the rampant destruction by wild animals (see also Thompson n.d.: 9). In general in Kenya wildlife negatively influences returns from agriculture as well as livestock rearing, and returns to local people from using the land for wildlife (for instance through tourism) are almost never higher than returns from agriculture or livestock (Norton-Giffiths et.al. 2006 in press: 6, 7, 29, Kimwele & Waweru 2006: 51-55), a point which will be further elaborated on in chapter 4.


Water is an extremely valuable resource in Africa, which has to be shared between different residents. As can be imagined, large amounts of wild animals also consume large amounts of water. In competition over water sources, elephants form the biggest problem for local people. In Maasailand elephants destroy the waterpoints people use for their families and cattle in different ways. Besides finishing the water they turn the waterhole into a shallow plain of mud, which makes it difficult or impossible for the women to fetch water. They also destroy the trees that surround, protect and facilitate for the continued existence of the waterpoint (picture 2.8). John Mlamba, a local Taita working at the Taita-Taveta Wildlife Forum, tells how elephants dig out and destroy waterpipes lying even a meter deep (picture 2.9).

For the Taita the issue of water-sharing is especially grim, because permanent sources of water are very limited (Smith & Kasiki 2000: 16). Although the Taita area is blessed with the Mzima springs, an amazing natural water source producing 438.000m³ water a day, 403.000m³ (92%) of this water is used to fill the (artificial) waterholes inside the Tsavo Parks, such as Aruba Dam, which never dry up.30 Only 35.000m³ (8%) is pumped into the Mombasa pipeline for direct use by people (Ministry of Water and Irrigation 2006) and largely surpasses the Taita area,31 where crops regularly die because of the drought, large scale cattle rearing is considered impossible because of lack of water (TDC n.d.: 14) and many women and children make daily three hour trips to carry dirty stagnant water to their homes. During a survey done in 2000, the people of the Taita area put water scarcity as the most urgent problem they had to deal with, 89% of the households experiencing problems (Njogu 2003: 91). Since that time nothing has changed in the local supply.

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