Text and photos by Kate and Marcus Westberg
The killing and mutilation of a lioness by a group of morani, or Maasai warriors, as part of their initiation into manhood made conservationist Anne Kent Taylor more determined than ever to protect Kenya’s big cats.
With a passion for animal welfare, Anne has dedicated a large part of her life to looking after wildlife on the rolling plains of the Masai Mara National Reserve. “With its vast skies, storms, no fences and endless views, there is no other place like it. It is challenging, dramatic, wild and hard to tame – and nor would we want to,” she said.
Her nickname in Kenya is chuma ya zamani, meaning ‘old steel’ and given to her by the local Maasai and rangers who saw that she was not afraid to take a stand against the suffering of wild animals, setting up anti-poaching patrols in the Mara Triangle and addressing the ongoing conflict between Maasai herders and predators.
Anne and her Maasai team work closely with local villages to reduce the conflict between humans and predators in the Masaai lands surrounding the Mara plains where “the diversity and quantity of wildlife is spectacular and hard to find elsewhere,” doing what they can to make the savannah grasslands a safe haven for wild animals.
Predators are under threat from retaliatory killings by the Maasai, a pastoral people who depend largely on livestock for their livelihood and cannot afford to lose even one animal. “The Maasai will not tolerate predators that prey on their livestock and as predation increases so too does the risk of revenge killings of lions and other big cats,” Anne said.
One of the ways in which Anne is helping to prevent predation and the resultant revenge killings of predators is through fortifying existing Maasai livestock enclosures, known as bomas, with chainlink fencing, a project made possible with the generous support of the National Geographic Big Cats Initiative and other Anne K. Taylor Fund (AKFT) donors.
Living among lions and other large predators means that many Maasai want better security for their cattle, sheep and goats. Predator-proof bomas keep livestock secure and prevent herders from seeking revenge on stock killers. “Most of the Maasai are interested in fortifying bomas and the growing demand for chainlink is now far exceeding my ability to provide it to everyone who wants it,” Anne said.
The Maasai themselves are responsible for putting in the chainlink fencing after receiving training from Anne’s team and, while “most have done an admirable job, some have been sloppy and the bomas have had to be redone. If the chainlink is not properly installed it can prove dangerous for the predators who may be able to enter the boma but not escape.”
Saving the wild animals of the Masai Mara for future generations is only possible with the support of the local community and Anne hopes that “the Maasai, in whose hands the very survival of the wildlife rests, will further protect their lands from outsiders who come to illegally kill the wildlife and destroy the environment.”
Working together with Care for the Wild (Kenya), the anti-poaching team faces danger on a daily basis to protect wild animals from illegal hunting, but there is only so much they can do. “The authorities need to amend the Wildlife Bill as soon as possible to allow for stricter punishment of poachers. Currently there is little or no deterrent to the poachers and they will continue to kill wildlife at an alarming rate,” Anne said.
Confronting a Custom
With the terrible loss of yet another lion, this time not through poaching but an age-old custom that Anne has found “many of the Maasai no longer find acceptable, not to mention that it is against the law,” the rapidly declining lion population in Kenya and elsewhere in Africa needs passionate people like Anne to fight for their survival.
After the lioness was killed, Anne immediately posted a driver and AKTF vehicle with the lion pride to prevent further attacks, working in shifts with the Mara Conservancy. “Graduation for warriors who want to prove their bravery is in August so the lions are severely at risk until that time and we will continue to monitor them,” she said.
With the help of her Maasai team, Anne conducts community education programs on the importance of saving wildlife. She improves local livelihoods through her project to fortify bomas, gaining support and understanding from Maasai herders and their families who “need to be a part of the process or it will not succeed.”
Working closely with the local Maasai community, Anne is doing everything in her power to protect Kenya’s big cats and keep the wildlife of the Masai Mara safe from harm. “They are my life, my passion. I am committed to protecting them as they have no voice of their own,” Anne said.