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Kenyan Chainsaw Gang Thwarted

National Geographic Big Cats Initiative grantee Anne Kent Taylor continues her updates from the field in Kenya this weekend. Her adventures this week include a giraffe rescue and an encounter with a chainsaw gang. Taylor has been using funding from the Big Cats Initiative to provide wire fencing to Kenya’s Maasai herders, on the basis...

National Geographic Big Cats Initiative grantee Anne Kent Taylor continues her updates from the field in Kenya this weekend. Her adventures this week include a giraffe rescue and an encounter with a chainsaw gang.

Taylor has been using funding from the Big Cats Initiative to provide wire fencing to Kenya’s Maasai herders, on the basis that if wild animals can be kept away from cattle and goats the farmers will have less incentive to kill marauding lions and other predators. Her project has so far reported 100 percent success in keeping predators at bay.

By Anne Kent Taylor

From the field in Kenya’s Maasai Mara–The Anne K. Taylor Fund team (AKTF), supported by the National Geographic Big Cats Initiative, has been extremely busy since I last wrote. We have delivered 212 additional rolls of chainlink fence to fortify more Masai livestock enclosures (“bomas”) against predation and the resultant revenge killings of lions. The demand for chainlink fencing continues to be overwhelming as the Masai realize the efficacy of protecting their “bomas” to keep their livestock safe. Human/predator conflict appears to be on the increase in unprotected bomas, and during the day when herds are sent out just with young boys, rather than the traditional warriors, to guard their stock.

Another catalyst of the human/predator conflict, and one of the hardest issues to solve or control is habitat destruction . On a patrol a few weeks ago, the team —consisting of members of the local Masai communities— led by Elias Kamande, discovered a “chainsaw gang” decimating the Nyakwere Forest hardwood trees at an alarming rate. This forest is a short distance from Mau Forest, a political hotspot that was almost destroyed by illegal logging and now is closely guarded. The Mau Forest’s increased security caused the loggers to move on to the less protected Nyakwere Forest. Nyakwere is a critical watershed area for the entire Masai Mara region and an extremely important habitat for wildlife. People and wildlife will suffer irreparably if the trees continue to be destroyed for personal gain. Each evening elephants leave the safety of the protected Mara Conservancy for the Nyakwere Forest to feed —as many of the indigenous trees found in this forest are not found elsewhere—and, I am told, to breed. It is also critical habitat for leopards and, indeed, lions. With people and chainsaws flooding the forest these animals no longer have a safe haven and are forced out into the community areas where conflict occurs. Timber is, of course, a very valuable resource and several members of the local community were benefitting financially.

When this issue was reported to the Director of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), he contacted the Wardens from the Mau and Narok areas, who sent in their patrols in an effort to stop this destruction. The situation was taken very seriously as well it should be. The weather conditions were horrendous – torrents of rain making roads impassable (and they came from a long distance) and conditions in the forest almost unbearable. The “chainsaw gang” must have been tipped off and disappeared, but the KWS teams still confiscated over 1000 pieces of timber – with many more having been removed beforehand. Many hardwood trees marked for harvesting would also have been lost had this situation not been brought to light.

Many of these timbers were destined to construct a local school with funding from U.S. donors, who were horrified to hear their money was being used in this manner. Others were being harvested for sale to other parties for personal gain. This is a complicated situation as this forest is a community asset and it transpires that the community feel that they have the right to do with it what they want….not taking into account the fact that the harvesting of hardwood trees is strictly governed. The fact is many of the community members, by their own admission, do not know the difference between a hardwood tree and other species nor do they understand the negative consequences should this forest be destroyed. Today the local KWS warden, who released all the confiscated timber within a few days to the Chief of the area, was supposed to have organized a meeting with the community, the AKTF team and other stakeholders but did not follow through and is not in the area. This was frustrating as & Beyond and we had planned to do an extensive education programme with the community so that they could understand the importance of this resource and the laws pertaining to hardwood trees. It is a mystery to me as to why this meeting was not honoured and that the de-forestation was not given the serious attention it deserves. I will pursue the matter and hope that we soon will all get together so that the forest, in the future, will be better protected. I am told that since these patrols, there have not been any more chainsaws heard in the forest, which is the best possible news. It was not a pleasant time with threats being leveled at anyone involved in the removal of the timber – including myself and the tractor drivers who were hired to remove the timber. Clearly some sensitive toes were stepped upon and after so much work it was frustrating that there was no follow up, no charges filed and since the timber was given to the Chief, no evidence!

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.

On a happier note, yesterday the AKTF/CFTW team managed to rescue a giraffe from a wire snare lodged around its neck. This took some doing as there was no vet in the Mara and thus the team worked closely with Felix, from the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, who organized for a KWS vet to come in from Nairobi. The team has been trying to orchestrate the rescue of this giraffe for some time but it always disappeared at the critical moment when the vet is on site. Luckily the snare was loose and the giraffe did not suffer unduly. Whilst the vet was here, they also were able to remove an arrowhead from a buffalo which was suffering greatly. It gives me such joy to know that these animals, at least, are out of danger and pain due to our intervention . There are always plenty more to take care of as the illegal wildlife poachers take their toll.

In closing I want to thank each and every one of you who support National Geographic Big Cats Initiative and I ask that you please continue this support so that those of us “in the field” can protect the Masai Livestock from predation and the critically endangered big cats from being killed in retaliation by poisoning or being hunted by young warriors and killed with a well -directed spear – a tradition that is hard to break, particularly if there is the excuse that the lions have killed their cattle. If there is no predation there is no reason for the Masai to kill the Big Cats. Thankfully, our protected “bomas” continue to be 100% successful in preventing predation. Recently Born Free Foundation, who copied our fortified boma prototype, has started building them in the Amboseli Reserve, and have received a lot of exposure on the local new stations singing their praises. Word is spreading of the success of this method of lion conservation which is great news.

Learn more about the National Geographic Big Cats Initiative

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Amy Bucci
Amy Bucci is a web producer for National Geographic. Her projects mainly cover National Geographic explorers, grantees and initiatives.