Maasai Women Speak Out for Living Walls

The Big Cats Initiative Grants Program seeks to identify and support projects that engage in immediate actions leading to reductions in big cat mortality.

Dr. Laly Lichtenfeld, Executive Director of the African People and Wildlife Fund, has been the recipient of multiple BCI grants and provides a prime example of how the BCI and its grantees work together to keep big cats safe. The Living Walls Program, spearheaded by Laly and the APW, results in both effective big cat conservation and improved lives for local people: a true win-win situation in which National Geographic is very proud to play a part.

Laly provides the following dispatch from the field:

Maasai Women Speak Out for Living Walls

The African People & Wildlife Fund and its partners, including the National Geographic Big Cats Initiative, are thrilled to announce that we achieved our 2011 goal of 100 Living Walls in the Maasai Steppe!

APW’s Living Walls are now protecting approximately 25,000 head of livestock on a nightly basis and positively impacting nearly 2000 community members.

With livestock safe at night, reduced lion-livestock conflict means better outcomes for the big cats. It’s a win-win-win scenario that keeps cattle safe from lions, lions out of the way of Maasai spears and local habitat intact.

Read more about how our Living Walls are positively impacting women in an interview with Helena Mbarnoti and others in the Maasai Steppe by Mary McLaughlin, APW & US Peace Corps Volunteer:

How do you feel about wildlife (specifically lions/cheetahs)? Is this the common view of wildlife in your community?

Wildlife is a source of profit for the community. Many people are starting to see this but not all. The wildlife brings tourists here and that brings business to us (for selling our jewelry).
In the past, many people in the community saw animals as an annoyance (predators to their livestock) and used to set out bait or poison to kill the wildlife.

How do people in the community generally interact with wildlife?

Before we had living walls, there was a great deal of wildlife disturbing the livestock at night. This was because there was not a strong enough reinforcement around the Boma (homestead) to keep the livestock in and the wildlife out. Now more and more people in the village have the living wall, (wire fencing attached to growing Commiphora trees) which is providing a strong reinforcement in the Boma to keep the livestock in at night and other potential predators out. This has greatly reduced predation and therefore has reduced instances of retaliation such as putting out poisoned bait to kill wildlife.

The ‘ukuta hai” (living wall in Swahili) give us peace of mind so that we can sleep better at night knowing our livestock (livelihood) are safe.

Why did you decide to have a living wall put in at your home?

Other people in the village had put in living walls and I saw the peace of mind they had from the living walls. People have been very welcoming of living walls in the village because they see many benefits and very little cost to install. We women help cut the [Commiphora] trees in the dry season for planting as the main reinforcement of the living wall. The trees must be dry when planted in order for them to take root. APW helps us to bring the cut trees back to the Boma, where they are planted by the men and then APW helps to put the wire fencing around the trees as a strong reinforcement. We contribute 25% to the cost of the wire fencing.

The living walls then provide us with safety for our livestock for years to come. The benefits are great; I saw that it was well worth installing a living wall at my home.

Has the living wall changed your daily activities?

As women in a Maasai Village, we help perform daily tasks to take care of the livestock. Before living walls, we used thorn bushes as reinforcement to reduce predation. The thorn bushes (masanzu in Swahili) dry out and therefore have to be replaced often. It is the job of the women of the household to collect the thorn bushes.

“At any time my husband could ask me to go and collect thorn bushes to put around the livestock, even late in the evening.”

Do you feel that the living wall has any specific benefits for you as a woman in the Maasai community?

It has reduced the workload by creating a permanent barrier around the livestock so that we don’t have to go out collecting thorn bushes on a weekly basis.

According to some of the women who wished to remain anonymous, their husbands would punish them if they did not collect the thorn bushes. They said that living walls have not only reduced their daily work but in several cases have also reduced cases of spousal abuse.

Has the living wall changed your attitude towards wildlife in your community?

People have greater peace of mind and have less harsh feelings towards the wildlife. If we hear wildlife near our Boma at night we do not wake in fear, we know we can sleep because the predators are not able to get to our livestock. The walls have reduced retaliation through poisoning or hunting down predators for killing livestock.


Many thanks to all our partners, supporters and local community members who helped the African People & Wildlife Fund to achieve this important milestone for lion and cheetah conservation and the improved coexistence of people and big cats. We would like to extend special recognition to the Regina Bauer Frankenberg Foundation, the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund and the National Geographic Big Cats Initiative for their critical support of this work.

While his own research focuses on learning about and protecting the fossa, Madagascar's elusive top predator, Luke Dollar has also devoted himself to promoting smart and effective conservation throughout the world. As a part of this larger dedication, he also heads up National Geographic's Big Cats Initiative. Learn More About Luke Dollar and His Work
  • Virginia Dean

    Fantastic job Laly!!!

  • Dana

    This is wonderful news!!! I wish all the people would use this method of protect their livestock and avoid predator conflict. I know the AK Taylor Fund is doing the same in the Mara for the Maasai.

  • Helga Morris

    This definitely is the way to go to help African people help themselves – and in the process help safeguard the world’s wildlife for all of us!
    Thank you Dr. Laly Lichtenfeld and hubby Charles!!!!

  • Camilo

    It is a great job! Congratulations!

  • Vanessa Assuad Camilo

    Excelente a solucao para grave problema entre o homeme a vida selvagem, reduz bastante a tensao contra os esse animais, que precisavam se direcionar melhor .
    Que as boas ideias e recursos nunca acabem !!!

  • Marta

    Congratulations to all who support this kind of initiatives, helping people and wildlife. This is the kind of help Africa needs, not just an “illuminated” colonization or someone who brings them “stuff”…learning new adapt-to-their-lifestyle ways to defend them selves and wildlife is the right choice to get a win-win goal!

  • Stephenie Meek

    I am avis supporter of out worlds wildlife… I am avis supporter of helping out. The destruction has to stop. We all need to work together as compassionate human beings who take care of the poor, the environment…curbing our greed and finding better, cleaner ways to live.

  • Cat Site

    Great national geographic,
    Are the man and lion relation is the best

  • Grace

    I always watch the program about big cat and wolf either from National GEO or Discovery channel and been moved by their living condition with human in those consevation, you really do great thing in the earth which will be last forever to influent this world. Donation is neccesary to me!

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  • marjan

    I am glad there are people who care for these animals

  • nicole

    marvolis job laly!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


    Es increible su enorme labor hacia los grandes felinos. Que siempre existan personas como ustedes y sigan esta noble causa.
    Muchas Felicidades.

  • Szűcs Gábor

    Kimondhatatlan örömmel tölt el, amikor a cikket olvastam. Reménnyel tölt el, éles ellentétben gyerekkorommal, amikor már csak olvashattam, hogy 1865- n lőtték ki az utolsó fokföldi oroszlánt Natalban. Vissza kaptam a reményt! Köszönöm!!!

  • stephen

    Your reach-out in protecting the wild and the humanity around it is highly laudable. Keep it up !

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