Good fences make good neighbors of Kenya’s lions and herders

The National Geographic Big Cats Initiative funds researchers and conservationists attempting to restore and protect big cats in the wild. In this third post from the field, Big Cats Initiative grantee Anne Kent Taylor wraps up the account of her recent visit to herders in the Masai Mara district of Kenya, where she has been providing wire fencing to protect cattle from predators in return for a promise from ranchers to stop persecuting lions.

(Click here for Anne Kent Taylor’s earlier blog posts.)

By Anne Kent Taylor

From the Field in Kenya’s Masai Mara–It was my pleasure to welcome Dr. Stuart Pimm to Kenya to visit the Anne K. Taylor Fund (AKTF) project, which is kindly being supported by National Geographic Big Cats Initiative.

On July 29th we had a bone-jarring drive from Nairobi to the Masai Mara where the wildebeest migration was in full swing. The following day we were joined by Dr. Paula Kahumbu, also an NGBCI grantee, and her husband, Peter Greste. This made for a stimulating and energizing house “party.”

Stuart was in the Mara to learn more about the Anne K. Taylor Fund’s work fortifying Masai livestock enclosures (bomas) against predation, and other community facets of our project. We covered a lot of ground and met with many members of the Masai community who are affected by predation.

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AKTF logo on fortified sheep shed, Masai Mara.

Photo courtesy of Anne Kent Taylor 

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Stuart Pimm, conservation biologist and a scientist on the grant-making committee of the Big Cats Initiative, at a boma fenced with funding supported by the Big Cats Initiative.

Photo courtesy of Anne Kent Taylor

The people who had already received wire were incredibly grateful that their animals were now safe and those who were to receive wire could hardly wait.

Big Cats Initiative Grant

Grantee: Anne Kent Taylor

Project: Construction of predator proof livestock enclosures in prime big cat habitats in Kenya’s Maasai Mara region

Geographical Area Served: AfricaKenyaMaasai Mara National Reserve

Field Work: 7/14/2010 – 7/11/2011

Project Description: Big cat populations in East Africa are crashing due to retaliatory killings by pastoralists. In the Maasai Mara, the problem threatens one of Africa’s most famous and important lion populations as pastoralists are increasingly intolerant of livestock predation. This project expands an existing successful project in the Mara that has effectively reduced human/lion conflict by preventing predation through securing livestock enclosures.

All blog posts by and about Anne Kent Taylor.

We visited the two bomas, mentioned in my last letter (Fences make predators more tolerable to Kenya farmers), where one livestock owner had lost 30+ goats and sheep to hyena and leopard and the other had lost several cows to lions. The latter told us that over 20 lions had been killed over the past couple of years in retaliation for killing their cows.

“With the delivery of the chain link, I stressed that they must, in turn, promise not to persecute the lions any further.”

With the delivery of the chain link, I stressed that they must, in turn, promise not to persecute the lions any further. I was assured that as their livestock would now be safe, there would be no reason to kill the lions. I feel confident that his word is good.


Safer sheep and goats inside chain-link-fortified boma.

Photo courtesy of Anne Kent Taylor

We also visited the Oloomongi Nursery School on their final day of school before the long summer holidays. We, along with the parents, witnessed the roll call of school results and we were able to congratulate the top students whose marks were generally around 480 out of 500 points–a marked improvement since the school feeding programme began a couple of years ago before which their marks were usually hovering around the 300 mark.

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Traditional Kenya livestock ranch.

Photo courtesy of Anne Kent Taylor

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Chain-link-protected sheep shed.

Photo courtesy of Anne Kent Taylor

After a couple of days of traveling on dreadful roads to inspect many of the bomas in various stages of protection, Stuart, Paula and Peter were able to take a few hours off to witness the great wildesbeest migration. There are few experiences to rival this migration. It is, in the true sense of the word, awe-inspiring.

Big-Cats-Initative.jpgI have now returned to the U.S. but the chain link continues to be delivered in my absence. With the help of the NGBCI I was able to purchase 200 more rolls of chain link in order to fortify many bomas as quickly as possible.

Between Chetan Solanki, of Packhard Ltd, Mr. Njenga who owns the lorry (which delivers the wire to the Mara) and the AKTF/CFTW team it is a well oiled machine and we can rest assured that our big cats are safer by the day as the chain link is installed.

We continue to have endless demands for chain link as word of its success spreads.

Click to find out more about the Big Cats Intiative. Photo compilation courtesy of Beverly and Dereck Joubert

I was so grateful for Stuart’s visit. I learnt a lot from him and was privileged to be able to spend time with such a dedicated and brilliant conservationist and a wonderful human being. As I have no scientific background, he has given me direction in what I need to do in order to be able to quantify the long term results of this project.

I am already in touch with interested students who may be able to help me computerize our data which to date has only been kept on an informal basis. It will be a huge learning curve for me but I am up for the challenge!

Thank you again to NGBCI for this incredible support and for including me as part of the NGBCI family, which is invaluable. To be able to draw from the experience of so many means a lot to me and I am sure it will improve this project exponentially.

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Anne Kent Taylor and team inspecting fortified cattle boma.

Photo courtesy of Anne Kent Taylor.

Anne Kent Taylor’s July/August 2010 field report:

Part One: Saving Africa’s last wild lions by fencing them out (July 23, 2010)

Part Two: Fences make predators more tolerable to Kenya farmers (July 25, 2010)

Part Three: Good fences make good neighbors of Kenya’s lions and herders (August 16, 2010)

Anne Kent Taylor was born and raised in East Africa. Several months a year she resides in the Masai Mara. During four decades working in the safari business, she has seen growing pressures on wildlife. With the increase of human settlements around the Mara reserve, predator-livestock conflicts have grown in the Masai bomas (traditional enclosures). Through partnership with the Masai in community projects and fortifying existing bomas with simple methods of natural and wire fencing, the Anne K Taylor Fund has had a 100 percent success rate at preventing livestock predation and the resultant revenge killings of predators. Anne’s conservation team includes Masai members who help educate their community to become the protectors of their own wildlife heritage.

Learn more about the National Geographic Big Cats Initiative

How to apply for a Big Cats Initiative grant

Donate to the Big Cats Initiative

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Photo courtesy of Anne Kent Taylor

Forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. He has 120,000 followers on social media. David Braun edits the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. Follow David on Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn

    I am thrilled to know that someone has come up with such a simple solution to the big cat verses Masai warriors tradtion. These young men are carrying out a tradition of their tribe which they and their elders have held dear for eons. They are of course, awaiting their turn to become warriors and celebrate this new identity.
    However, in doing so, they risk the very thing that is essential to the life of their tribe and its future, the lion .
    I had the fear that the Masai would face the same fate as our Indian tribes and its people here in America. Surely there must be something simple to keep these animals safe and also to give them a future while protecting the Masai but I did not know the answer until now—chain link fencing for the cattle.

    What could be more simple than that!! Now the new generation must also relearn to place its priorities and values on saving the lions while saving themselves too. They must learn how to display as warriors in a different way ,and hopefully ,also reap the reward as custodians of growing numbers of cattle with which to impress the girls!!
    This happy solution will take time and an effort to understand, but it is possible. What a heavy burden has been lifted from my shoulders. I have a sister in law who went to visit the Masai on safari in the sixties and the young warriors it seems were very impressed with her—they wanted her father to trade her for two goats and five cows! However the deal was not accepted and so she is back here.

    I knew that someone smarter than I could come up with an idea to solve this Masai / big cat war wear both sides win. Now I hopefully can see a future where both the big cats can thrive with these wonderful African peoples who have lived for centuries intertwined with each other. Thank you thank you. I love our earth so much–please as human beings, let us not destroy what is so valuable and in doing so destroy ourselves. Personally, I think that the animals were just fine before we got into the act. Thanks for your time–alex dorn in Kapaa

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