Amboseli’s People & Wildlife: Innocent Bystanders Falling Prey to Local Conflicts

In recent weeks, human-wildlife conflict in Kenya has grown more severe.  This week, Maasai warriors rampaged across the Amboseli ecosystem, following an unsuccessful interaction between tribal leaders and the Kenya Wildlife Service. 


Not far behind the recent killings near Nairobi National Park and elsewhere in the Amboseli ecosystem, Kenya is again plagued by back-to-back occurrences of acute human persecution, this time with more wildlife falling as unwitting surrogates to mortal human combat over the past week.


 Nick Brandt, of Big Life Foundation, has posted the two briefings in the past 36 hours.  They can be found here along with regular updates: http://www.facebook.com/#!/biglifefoundation


Last week, a Maasai child was tragically killed by a buffalo. 


“One officer from Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) unfortunately blamed the killing on the Maasai, not on the buffalo,” Brandt reports online.   “All hell broke loose. 200 warriors went on a rampage to spear any elephants and buffalo they could find. One buffalo was killed and one elephant speared in the process, before the warriors were temporarily talked down, the KWS officer moved elsewhere, and a provisional agreement made that the Director of KWS would meet to discuss the communities’ grievances (this) week.”


Maasai leaders took great offense at what they perceive as having been “snubbed” by the Director of KWS at this week’s meeting, who instead sent lower-ranking deputies.


“The Maasai were furious and over 100 moran (warriors) went on the rampage, killing any animal they came across outside the park on community land….where many of Amboseli’s elephants go every night,” notes Mara-based Big Cats Initiative (BCI) grantee Anne Kent Taylor.  “One of the bulls, called Ezra, was well known – 46 years old and a gentle soul.  …he was hit many times by spears, including one in his head – and died sometime later in agony.  (Another) was killed whilst sleeping under a tree and the carnage went on…”

EZRA, a well-known 46 year old male elephant was speared repeatedly, including in the head, following negotiation conflicts between Maasai and the Kenya Wildlife Service. Ezra eventually succumbed to his wounds. Photo by Nick Brandt


Nick Brandt reports that fortunately, “community and council leaders announced that there is to be no more killing.”  While this is certainly a relief, “some warriors are still out hunting, their blood up.  The meeting between the KWS director and community leaders is scheduled for August 6.”  In the meantime, however, the current crisis is far from over.


“Our rangers have still not been given the go ahead to go back out and get back to work protecting the wildlife, says Brandt.   “The ceasefire remains tentative, and poachers could come in now and take advantage of the situation if we cannot get our rangers (120) back into the field now.


Only our Tanzanian rangers monitoring the situation in that side of the border are out.”  For now, Amboseli’s wildlife currently remain relatively exposed and underproteced in the midst of ongoing crisis. 


The connected nature of human and wildlife populations and the intrinsic linkages between the well-being and support of both remains evident.  If we are to consider ourselves a part of the interdisciplinary global collective of conservationists, humanitarians, politicians, managers, researchers, storytellers, advocates, and local citizens, our way forward must be infused with a theme of equality, respect, and partnership.  BCI grantee Dr. Laly Lichtenfeld reflects that these events “really reinforce the importance of comprehensive approaches to conservation that work to strengthen community rights and participation in the management of natural resources and the derivation of benefits from them.”


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
  • Anthony Wanguru Stevenson Ruoro

    Well written article. It would never have gotten to this point had the director for Kenya Wildlife Services not cancelled or could not attend the meeting called by the community. This set the elders off as they felt he had disrespected them after waiting for his arrival and only junior officers and other board members were present. Nobody understands why the govt is not doing much more about these conflicts that are now escalating. Something needs to be done or else the national heritage we so dearly love will be moved more steps closer to extinction.

  • Blessing Chasauka

    Human life should be prioritised.i love animals,but if i have to choose btwn humans and animals,there is no contest,i stand with my own species

  • peter tentuan

    this is not the way to solve conflict , you are in charge of this wildlife. let us conserve our environment and protect the right of our wildlife.

  • Philip Titen

    human are more important than wildlife that let all come together looking into long solution for both human and wildlife too.maa always care those animal more than anyone else,living together any cool themselves while facing total destruction to there farm field and yet end up getting nothing.
    Compensation that Big life giving to the maa is like buying our cows and feed lion with.
    Let all involve get back in one table and discuss the bottom of the issue.

  • Marc Myers

    I can’t help but suspect that this comes from longer standing disputes between the Wildlife Service and community leaders. Seems like wisdom would be some fact-finding and arbitration before more children and more elephants are killed.

  • nicole shadow

    I am sorry but if you are ignorant enough to believe ALL these animals, whose land we have taken over and are limited to live in a small part of THEIR land, are to blame; then they should all die. There are way too many of them abyways. The ignorance and stupid “honor” is just a hurt ego. Where were the parents when the child was killed? They are ANIMALS surviving on instinct we most of us actually have brains to tell the difference. IGNORANCE is bliss sometimes. At what price. These “leaders” should educate the populations and please give them birth control. why keep having kids when you are starving. URGH Stupidity sickens me!

  • Yvonne Rijsdijk

    Tell me, why humans should have more rights to live than animals?? If you would ask someone to jump in a lion enclosure in any zoo, every sane person would agree that that is not a smart thing to do. But as soon as we are outside in the wild, then all off a sudden common since does not seem to apply anymore and animals are always the one to blame. In my opinion every living and breading individual, humans as well as animals, are intitled to live their lives as they see fit BUT with respect towards one another. This means that we humans, “blessed” with reason, have the capacity AND the obligation to make sure to protect themselves, especially if you live in an area that you know has to be shared with its other owners, the animals. Animals to what is in their nature to survive, we humans can avoid conflict by using common sence. Isn’t it about time we all regocnize this? If you build your field in the route of elephants it is asking for trouble, if you go out at night / live stock is unprotected at dark hours, it is asking for problem since it is obvious animals ar on the hunt. Build kraals and protect yourself by taking appropriate measures so animals and humans can live side by side. Even more: elephants are the builders of landscapes, in the long term Africa could absolute not do without them, same is for the apex predator, THINK, people, THINK!

  • Elisabeth

    This is the result of foreign aid and of too many children. If the human population of this world is not reduced and birth control is not taken then all wildlife will be exterminated. I will choose for the animals. They are the innocent victims of a wild-fire of the human species. And Africa will loose a big income of tourism as they come for the elephants and lions, not for the Masai with cell phones. The conflict will always be there til the human race will stop growing. In 1960 from 3 billion till 2011 to 7 billion…Kenya in 1977, 17 million people, in 2010, 40 million people. More wars, more famine, more slaughter of animals, more disasters. And people believe that the human race is more intelligent then animals? Wake up. Because of religions people believe that we are above nature and have the right to kill and hunt wild animals, for pleasure or for food or for space. Bye bye elephants, lions, leopards, tigers, antelopes, sharks, wales, seals. If there is a god, he/she/it didn’t do a good job to save the creation. I think that the human race is a mistake of evolution.

  • Mike

    Humans and animals have the right to live in this world. We should always remember that we all live in the same world and we should always show love and respect in this world.

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  • Joseph Logela Melita

    Animals are very innocent. But the facts is Kenya Wildlife Service is not caring animal as their responsibility. They money instead of animals bringing in money. So why don’t they give the Maasai community a reasonable share since 90% of these animals depend on their lands?

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  • Terry (“Coco” to the Maasai)

    I do not know anything about KWS, however, I do know that they will not allow researchers to collar lions — only the KWS can do so (I have a friend in a conservancy adjacent to the Mara who has been waiting for some time). Seems like a control issue. I agree with Marc that this may be a long-standing problem between the Maasai and the KWS, and it probably has to do with money – the source of most conflicts.

  • Calvin cottar

    Ezra and the boy are victims of a dysfunctional and archaic wildlife policy in Kenya that disallows ownership and use of wildlife by the land owners while at the same time wildlife presence reduces productivity of other land uses by 60% through competition and disease. Meanwhile human population and aspirations are increasing.. Wildlife has no place if it is not directly controlled and owned by the landowners, and unless the Kenya government change this, we will have no wildlife left in 30 years. My concern is that there are still well meaning people in the conservation world that believe that the top down approach is still the way forward (i.e. a more militarized KWS centric approach) and that wildlife conservation should be forced on landowners.. It’s now well proven to NOT work (Kenya losing wildlife at a rate of 3.5% to 4% per year) while countries that have devolved ownership have increasing wildlife ( South Africa increasing numbers from 450,000 head of game in 1976 to 20 million in 2010).

    The KWS and GOK need to create legal mechanisms to get landowner needs written into policy so that they work for humans, and wildlife conservation happens as an automatic byproduct and consequence of adapted behavior by humans as they factor in a future with wildlife ( such as not putting schools on elephant migration routes etc)

    The policy also puts KWS in a terrible position as it is has an impossible mandate.. And I don’t blame the director avoiding the heat of the Maasai! How can they be expected to impose conservation by force on communites while keeping donors and the animal rightist organisations that fund KWS happy as well ?

    Ironically, wildlife is extraordinarily productive as a land use if it is permitted to its full extent, potentially generating between $400 and $600 million a year for landowners and value adding businesses in the country. So wake up Kenyan landowners, and get your leaders to change the wildlife policy so that you can own and benefit from your wildlife directly.

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