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

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Direct daily conflicts


The day to day direct conflicts people have with wildlife are threefold: Crop destruction, attacks on livestock and attacks on people. For agriculture, grazers such as gazelle, zebra and buffalos form a problem. But by large the biggest threat comes from elephants.32 In many places in Taita elephants come right up to the compounds and form a constant threat. Magdalena Mtongolo, a struggling young widow and mother of three, living in an area where elephants roam almost nightly between the houses of the village says: ‘If you are lucky enough to scare them, you get maize. If you are not lucky: No maize’33 (pictures 2.10, 2.11). Alexander Musyoki, a Kamba living in the Taita area tells: ‘In 2004 my whole harvest was eaten, I had to work on my neighbour’s field to feed my family. There was barely enough food for me.’34

But also in the Maasai areas elephants are by far the biggest raider of crops (see also Thompson n.d. 9). Harun Ole Kamoye tells about an area near Lemek: ‘The elephants harvested [the fields] in a line, eating two hundred maize plants in ten minutes.’35 Fred Kariankei reacts: ‘Many farms have been totally destroyed by elephants. You work so hard, have had so many sleepless nights, but at the time of harvesting the elephants win. You lost all the money you spend to cultivate the land.’36

For agriculture wildlife leads to losses of crops, sometimes entire harvests, for a considerable number of people, especially those living close to protected areas. Jonas Kiute, the agricultural officer of the Kasigau area in Taita records all losses of crops through wildlife there and estimates that a quarter of the families is being invaded each year, mainly by elephants. The elephants generally consume 20-25% of the harvest, clearing some farms up to 100%, especially when the maize is still in its green stage.37 Derrick Mwangala, Chairman of Kishushe group ranch in Taita voices the feelings of many farmers when he says: 'I'm farming for 15 years now. I could be somewhere if it was not for the [wild] animals.... and the problem is becoming worse. They used to say Tsavo is a good place for them [the elephants], pasture, water, a big space. But there are people.'38


Wildlife causes a considerable loss of livestock returns in different ways.39 Mzee40 Jackson Kisemei, a former teacher and active with Friends of Conservation (FOC) as well as Nangaris Conservation Association, tells about the consequences of the millions of gazelle, zebra and wildebeest that move into the Mara area during the great migration each year (picture 2.12).41 ‘[W]hen the migration comes, the wildlife eats all the good grass. It is finished before the new rains come. Many livestock died because of overgrazing by wildebeest. There are too many wild animals here.’42 Besides by competition for grass, cows are also killed through the disease of malignant catarrh, which is mainly spread by wildebeest (see also Ndagala 1992: 41). When a cow eats the grass where an infected wildebeest has left the afterbirth after calving, it will die, and people spend a lot of time chasing wildebeest away from their boma during calving time.

Another, more constant and widespread problem concerning livestock are wildlife attacks. The only herbivore that sometimes attacks and kills cows is the elephant, but more focussed on the livestock are predators, such as lions, leopards and occasionally a cheetah. In the Taita area Mrema Tayari was grazing his goats when one of them was attacked by a cheetah. Her two babies died because of lack of milk. Many informants told how leopards come silently to take an animal out of the boma nearly every night. Maasai Sammy Kisemei lost 11 goats to the leopard just last month, Sixty year old Maasai Menye Muya Ololkumum even claims to have lost about 200 goats and sheep to the leopard in two years.

Lions more often work in prides and attack at night or through ambushes during the day, focussing on large stock (picture 2.13). Dominique Mlandi Makite in Taita lost the cow that used to pull his plough to the lions last October. Therefore he was unable to plough and plant crops for food on his land this season. Kaaka Maria Nguruna, a Maasai widow with six children lost two cows in the months of April and May: One was pregnant and one that had a two week old calf. The first cow was killed by the lion in the evening as the cows came back to the village after grazing in the field. The second pregnant one was killed during the day when the whole herd was ambushed. It was too heavy to run and was separated from the herd by a lion. Maria is still struggling to bring up the calf of the first cow by providing milk, buying three bottles in the morning and three in the evening, as her other lactating cows have dried up. In addition a hundred sheep of her and her family members were killed some time ago when one night three hyenas dug their way into the boma.

That hyenas are a nuisance to the community, often killing dozens of animals in one night while eating only a few and leaving the rest to die from their wounds, is illustrated by many stories, especially in Maasai land. Last June in one night a Maasai villager in Oltorotwa lost 45 goats and sheep to the hyenas:
It was raining heavily and it was difficult to hear anything because of the rain on the iron sheet roof. The laughing of the hyenas celebrating their kills woke us up but it was too late, they had already killed 40. Many sheep had been suffocated in the panic, especially the young ones. And many lost tails and limbs and some very precious parts of their bodies [genitals]. There was nothing to do but slaughter the badly injured ones the next morning; there was nothing to do but kill them and eat. So there was a lot of feasting on meat around the villages that day [smiles sadly].’43
Many people claim to get no sleep because of the hyenas, and there are cases known in the area where a family (Kishermoruak) lost 200 goats and sheep by hyenas in one night.

From dusk (7-8 pm) till dawn (5-6 am) no one can wander around safely in the Tsavo or the Mara area. Although generally the Maasai do not easily discuss the dead, there are not a few who have given short or long emotional accounts of how a family member was killed by an elephant. Elephants are especially a threat to men coming home from the village in the evening, sometimes being drunk, to women fetching firewood, and to children on their way to school (see also KWS 1994: 17). Many children in the Taita area come to school too late everyday, because if they would start walking the long kilometres to reach their earlier, it would be too dangerous. Some days children cannot go to school, or go home after school at all because the elephants are roaming around the area (see also KWS 1994: 17, Njogu 2003: 195). In some places the herds regularly move right into the villages, next to the shops, in-between the houses and in the compounds where people live. According to local research by Smith & Kasiki around Tsavo, family groups of elephants move into the settled areas between 7 and 9 pm to feed on the farms and return back into the National Park between 5 and 6 am (2000: 22). Of course some people do go out in the early morning or in the evening, and also quite some people get killed.44

However, attacks also can take place in broad daylight. Patrick Ntiangau Liaram (Maasai) tells how in his village they try to spot the elephants every morning so the herders can decide which way to take the livestock. But in the more bushy areas of Taita it is more difficult to see the silent giants coming. When the old man Kandonde Kisango went to visit his ill daughter, he was suddenly attacked by an elephant. Lying in a small dark hut, still suffering from the broken bones in his left hand and right leg after more than four months (picture 2.14), he tells how the elephant violently threw him of his feet. ‘I was walking down the path around four o’clock in the afternoon. While I was thrown, the blanket I carried got stuck on a tree, so I fell alone. The elephant attacked the blanket, ripping it apart, and I survived.’45

While people generally stay home at night, they are not always safe there either. Mzee Mwanzila says the problems with the wild animals have become worse in the 40 years he has lived in the Taita area. Because of the danger of being attacked, he does not want to leave his house any more after eight o'clock. He is even worried about sleeping inside the house. And he may be right to worry, as less than a month after our conversation, at a nearby area elephants are reported to have destroyed a house.46 Not far from there other people burnt the poles of the house in which they fled after being chased by two herds of elephants. The poles had to be sacrificed making a large fire to scare the animals, because the whole home was in danger of being trampled.

Other animals regularly injuring or killing people are the buffalo and around sanctuaries rhinos.47 Kills by predators seem to be more common in Maasailand, and most common are attacks by lions or very rarely a leopard. One of my interpreters, a 24 year old Maasai man, tells how as a boy of a poor household he became the head of the family at a very young age after loosing his older brother to a lion. With the compensation money he sent his sister to school. ‘And the lion was never killed. Sometimes I am still thinking of getting a gun and killing lions…. Wildlife is God’s creation… but the problem is that they are brutal.’48 Remarkable was a case last July at Kekero village, where a young boy was killed by hyenas, as well as his father who was trying to safe him when he heard his cries. Two other sons trying to rescue the father and son that were ripped apart, were treated in Tenwek hospital having lost part of their faces and buttocks. According to Daniel Taki, health officer at the Maasai dispensary near the edge of Masai Mara, last year (2006) two to three people per week came into the dispensary with injuries caused by wildlife.
Defending life and property

When there are problems with wildlife, local people are supposed to warn the KWS, which should come and assist them. The role of authorities in the human-wildlife conflict and their relationship with the locals will be further described in the next chapter. What is important to know for now is that most people feel that contacting the KWS does little to solve their problems, and deal with the wildlife themselves in different ways.

Guarding and making noise

Generally it is too expensive to find material to properly fence off a plot. People build fences with local materials, which are often already hard to come by, but these hardly keep out grazers, let alone elephants that are only really stopped by large electric fences. For a pen to keep safe livestock at night less material is needed, and in some Maasai villages instead of prickly bushes, hyena-proof fences have been constructed, consisting of three to four meter long poles dug deep into the ground which are covered with mesh-wire (pictures 2.15, 2.16). The fence can only be build if the people have decided to permanently settle at the specific location, and some people feel that the material as well as its permanent character are not traditional, and therefore decide not to use it. However, most Maasai mention that the costs make it impossible to build such a fence.49

It is most common for people to bang their pots and pans and, if available, use torches to scare wild animals away. However, in the Taita area many informants told that nowadays, instead of scaring the animals off, the noise and the light seems to make them aggressive and attract them. Some people plant hot peppers, put cowdung, sniff-tobacco or old tires around their fields to try keep the animals at a distance, or put fires on every corner and build scarecrows.50 Despite these precautions, generally it is necessary to guard crops and livestock day and night (see also Smith & Kasiki 2000: 23). That means staying awake and sleeping lightly, taking the domestic animals into your house at night, or as young unmarried Maasai men often do, taking shifts to sleep in a small hut inside the livestock pen.

Especially in Maasailand people often use dogs to help guard their property, but leopards that come into the boma at night have the habit of first killing the dogs that make noise, and than taking a sheep.51 Danson Marampei Ole Pesi tells how he lost 4 sheep: ‘If the leopard comes today and steals one sheep, it will come again after a couple of weeks or months. You have to be alert. We employed three boys to take shifts up till the morning. The seven dogs we had helped very much but all have been taken by the leopard, just killed, not eaten.’52 But not all forms of defence are as passive as guarding and making noise. A 24 year old Maasai man from Oltorotwa says: 'The animals always come to attack the livestock or into the shamba to eat the crops at night. We can’t leave them, we have to defend, and that is by killing.'53

Poison, snares and traps

The people of the Taita area as well as the Maasai use snares, traps, a board with poisoned nails or poisoned meat mainly to try and stop the continuing loss of livestock to predators, such as hyenas, leopards and lions. The Maasai seem to be more proactive and open about the killing of wildlife. Stephen Liaram tells how in the old days it was common to poison a wildebeest, which would die and be eaten by the predators. Now the poison is more often added to leftovers of livestock. A Maasai mzee at Mbirikani Group Ranch proudly tells me how he killed a group of spotted hyenas in his area a couple of years ago. When the hyena took three of his finest goats, eating two, he cooked up the skin and hooves and meat that was left over, and roasted and poisoned it. He left the meat lying outside and when the hyenas came and ate it in the night, many of them died. The meat that was left, he brought to the cave where the hyenas often reside. ‘Many more died again, even two babies. It greatly reduced the hyenas.’54

Many Maasai permanently have several hyena traps made out of prickly bushes and a snare situated around their villages, and if hyenas bother them they put some leftover meat there to trap the animals (picture 2.17), after which they are usually speared to death. Donald Mombo, a Taita local now working for Kenya Community Based Tourism Network (Kecobat) tells how at some places armed guards and snares (picture 2.18) are now also used to prevent elephants from accessing water points in places in around Tsavo, such as Malebo Watering Point in Mgeno Group Ranch.
Spears, arrows and swords

In the old days it was common for the Maasai to kill big cats and hyenas when they were encountered, and if they had cubs, to track down and kill them as well (Reid & Chapman: 23, 28, 120, 280). Maasai still kill carnivores, mostly in direct encounters. In Mbirikani and Mara Rianda large numbers of lions have been killed by the Maasai (Maasailand Preservation Trust 2003: 139) after which livestock compensation programs have been set up.55 But lions are still targeted sometimes. Mzee Lisinko Ole Lemurt says: ‘[When livestock is attacked and] a man has to face a lion, the lion or the man can be killed. When the lion runs into the forest the man will find other men in the village and go to merciless kill it.’56 Other Maasai men and women also state that when a lion comes to the boma, it is followed and killed the next morning. One of the rangers at the KWS station near Narok tells me the Maasai have killed a lion in their jurisdiction the day before I do the interview with him.

But predators are not the only animals the Maasai kill in their defense. In many different areas surrounding the Masai Mara elephants have been killed by poisoned arrows and spears. According to the KWS survey on elephant killings in Lemek during some periods many people were killed and elephants died almost daily. Danson Marampei Ole Pesi remembers how last year around ten elephants were killed close to Endoinyio-Erinka:
Many elephants died… because they came to eat the garden [with maize]. People followed the footprints in the night until they found and killed them…. Fifteen kilometres down at least three people were killed by elephants; that was a reason for killing them too.... Elephants [also] kill cows. People are angry after [that] and kill as many elephants as they can.’57
Harun Ole Kamoye tells how in a nearby area in 2005, thirteen elephants were killed in only a few days because they were rapidly destroying the crops. During my stay at one of the villages a young man tried to spear an elephant. Besides elephants in the area there are reports of buffalos and hippos being killed by Maasai farmers because they eat crops.

Generally, the Maasai are much better equipped with weapons (pictures 2.19, 2.20, 2.21) and skills for counter attacks against large predators than the Taita. But sometimes the people of the Taita area do attack the raiding elephants with bows and (poisoned) arrows, as many of the Kasigau residents did in ’98/’99.58 Others, as Alexander Musyoki, a Kamba living in the Taita area, await the huge animals with just a panga (large chopping knife) and a torch: ‘It is hardly a day or two before an elephant comes to the shamba [farm/field]. By now they know I am there and chase me off the field first before they start to eat, so that I am no longer a threat [to them].’59 Menza Siria chased a lion of the carcass of his goat, aided only by the help of his dogs and his panga. He lost the meat of his other three goats. I feel the stories of people risking direct encounters with even the largest predators just to safe the meat of a carcass, are telling of the situation people are in. Therefore I will reproduce one of these stories in length.

Facing Lions with a Whip
When I visited Mr. Nzangi in the Taita area, his farm had been destroyed by elephants one week ago. A couple of days later eight lions attacked his livestock. As he heard the noise, he went outside and chased the lions off, using a whip with which he threw stones and charcoal towards them. But when he went back to sleep he heard some disturbing sounds again, only this time they were further away. Knowing his neighbour Margaret Mweni Mutuku was home alone with her children, because her husband had found a paying job in Nairobi and comes home only a few times a year, Nzangi quickly went through the dark night to check on them. On the way to their house he discovered the carcass of one of their sheep.

Mrs. Mutuku and her eight children had already been asleep at nine in the evening. She had left her cattle and sheep in the boma, her bull tethered to the tree as he sometimes tried to jump the fence. She woke up with the noise of the cattle panicking. As she does not have a torch, she lighted the oil lamp and stood in the opening of the door of her house, feeling it was too dangerous to go outside because she was unable to see anything much by the glimmer of the lamp.

When the neighbour arrived it turned out that – having smelt the lions – the bull had broken the rope and was running around like crazy, making the terrific noise that woke up the family. Nzangi managed to find Mrs. Mutuku's pregnant cow, but it was badly hurt. When the pride wanted

to recover the animal, which was already lying on the ground, Nzangi stood above it in the dark, cracking his whip and hitting the lions with stones, determined to safe the meat (picture 2.22, 2.23). Holding his ground, he prevented them from dragging the cow further from the house, and making

it their meal.

Unfortunately the cow had broken two legs and had to be slaughtered. Despite her neighbour's bravery, Mrs. Mutuku had lost all her livestock, four sheep, a cow and a bull, in a single night. Two days later a large puddle of blood still marks the place where the lion took the cow. The saved meat is not eaten but sold, but her loss is huge. There will be no more milk, no ploughing can be done and there will be no meat. One of her children at her breast and another clamping on her leg she says: ‘I don’t know what to do, absolutely.’

Coping after loss

Mwaruwa Makuto voices the typical attitude of the people in the Taita area coping with loss: ‘Usually when you loose a goat or cow you just wait for the rains. You continue life. You wait for them to reproduce and continue.’60 As there is no compensation for loss of livestock or crops and compensation for loss of life is difficult to obtain, as will be discussed in the next chapter, generally the Maasai as well as the Taita feel that if there is help after wildlife attacks, it comes from the community, family and friends. In the Maasai area, when hyenas or other predators kill a flock of sheep or several cows, each family contributes an animal to compensate for the massive loss, so the victim can build up his herd again. In the Taita area loss of crops are most serious in threatening the food supply of the family. After a large raid one hopes to be invited to help neighbours on their plot, and obtain a sack of maize for the work after harvesting. If family can be reached they can maybe support household members to help them through the lean times. And otherwise it is waiting, conserving energy and as much money and food as possible, and hoping the food-aid will arrive soon, and not be swallowed up to much by the chief who is supposed to distribute it.

Local uses of wildlife

The human-wildlife conflict in Kenya has been researched and described quite extensively for different communities. However, the usefulness of wildlife in the daily life of local people is addressed almost exclusively in the context of tourism. I will go into the use wildlife has for locals through the tourism industry in chapter four. But first I want to describe the other uses of wild animals, especially charismatic mega-fauna, in the day to day life of local people. Only by describing the material and symbolic importance of wildlife to the Taita and the Maasai, their relationship with these wild animals can become more fully visible. Nowadays, many of these uses are at least partly hidden, because they are considered illegal by the Kenyan state, something which I will describe further in chapter three. Here I want to make clear that the interaction between wildlife and local people, even if these people have livelihoods that are largely based on farming or livestock rearing, is not solely based upon conflict, but can be described more accurately as a complex entanglement, that is sometimes exploitative but also shows aspects of symbiosis.

The Taita

According to De Ville ‘[h]unting was quite important to the traditional subsistence way of life of the Taita’ (1996: 69), and he describes the game-pits that were used to catch wild animals at the foots of hills, while Njogu describes the use of poisoned arrows (2003: 72). The Taita used to hunt a variety of animals, and rhino and buffalo helped the Taita survive the great famine of 1884 (Ville 1996: 69).61 In addition to eating the meat, the Taita traditionally used animal skins as garments, and participated in the trade of ivory and rhino horn (Njogu 2003: 73-74, Monge 2001, Ville 1996: 69) People usually hunted large male animals and were not supposed to kill females and young. According to Albert Baresha, the young Taita men were told that if they would kill a female they would bring misfortune to their clan, resulting in poverty, people and animals dying for unknown reasons as well as stillborn calves and babies in the homestead. ‘So they were trained to really fear to kill [females], keeping the balance with nature.’62

Nowadays animal skins are not used for clothing any more, and locals think back longingly to the time they were provided with meat for a month by a single giraffe's leg. Moreover, the two buffalos that were traditionally slaughtered in Taita villages such as Wundanji to celebrate Madaraka day with a feast for everyone, have been replaced by two bulls. However, bushmeat is still caught and eaten, even if it has become illegal to hunt, posses or trade it. It is however not as abundant as it used to be (see also Njogu 2003: 183-184). In parts of the Taita area, animals like the wild boar have almost completely disappeared. Dikdik, a miniature antelope only 35 to 45 cm high, and generally believed to have the ‘sweetest'63 meat, has become a lot more scarce. In the first place this is the result of habitat loss due to the large population growth, but poaching also has a negative influence.

Bushmeat is not eaten as often as in the old days because of the danger and costs involved. A dikdik used to be cheap meat, but the price has almost tripled. Since hunting has become illegal, it has professionalised and commercialized. Dikdiks can bring in quite some money now and instead of hunting one to take home and eat, poachers can kill dozens of antelopes a night, using snares or powerful torches to blind the animals so they are easy to catch.64 It is also likely that snaring, a method which is silent and easy to hide, has become relatively more popular (picture 2.24). However, this method is non-selective, killing prey without reference to sex, age, or species (Marks 2001: 135). The meat obtained through poaching is still largely sold to locals, who use it for their own consumption. Besides dikdik also giraffe, zebra and impala are hunted, and bushmeat of these kinds is still being sold, but not in the towns. To obtain it, you have to know someone well, as it is kept very quiet.

According to the protectors of the national parks and sanctuaries the hunting mainly happens because of poverty and therefore takes place in the dry season when there are no crops, being minimal when the rains are good. Moreover, they observe poaching is aggravated by human wildlife conflict, especially when wild animals destroy crops.65 According to the desnaring team of David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Voi there is subsistence and commercial poaching, but the subsistence is most common, and it is mostly focussed upon small game.66 Even the more commercially poached animals are still sold to the community. The main incentive for poaching is the fact 'that people have no income and need food.'67 Wild animals thus form a relatively modest but important role in people's diets, and provide an (illegal) occupation to make a living for some.68

However, the relationship between the people of the Taita areas and wildlife is not only focussed upon material products. The Taita traditionally have a special relationship with the elephant, now the biggest destroyer of their crops. Elephants were normally not hunted for meat, because the animals were seen as powerful and intelligent beings, and therefore ‘regarded as ‘men’’ (Ville 1996: 70, also 71). As a result, the killing of an elephant was perceived as murder (ibid. 69). The human identity of the elephant is explained by the Taita ‘by referring to the elephant’s naked skin and to its mammary gland which resembles a women’s breast’ (Ville 1996: 69). The elephant was given a female character by the Taita, which was also connected to its reputation of tranquil strength, while the rhino, associated with blind fierceness, was given a male character. Only some Taita hunters killed elephants, such as the famous and widely admired Mundwachovu (Man of the Elephants). These hunters had to be ritually cleansed afterwards, just as warriors were cleansed after the killing of a human being (Ville 1996: 69).

The gross of the Taita people did not kill elephants to protect their crops and harvest their ivory, but used its strength to protect themselves from intruders and illnesses. The Taita sprinkled their fields with elephant dung to keep robbers and sorcerers away. The smoke of burned dung was used to cure sick people through fumigation. The dung as well as the earth of the footprints of the elephants were used in the ‘old kufighika ritual, which aimed at guarding the land against enemies or wild animals’ (1996: 70). Even up to today shepherds burn elephant dung or the wild sisal plant which has been chewed by elephants as a repellent to other elephants (Ville 1996: 70, Njogu 2003).

Wild animals also play an important role in the traditional stories of the Taita. Generally those stories are told to children and carry a moral message inside them. Popular are 'trickster tales', involving a smart but weak character which cunningly overcomes more powerful forces. A special story with a more mythological character is the story of Mwankiskalua from a place called Mbololo, a Taita man that controlled the lions, having inherited the power through his clan. Old man Baresha tells how ‘[h]e could send them even up the hill if someone had a debt to him there, and they would pass all the homesteads and come to [his] place. He controlled all animals.’ Mwankiskalua is also believed to be behind the Maneaters of Tsavo, a group of lions which hunted people during the building of the railway line, and cunningly circumvented baited traps. In addition wildlife has a role in modern-day witchcraft, often involving metamorphosis (see also Hasler 1994: 88, Smith 2001: 431-432).

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