The Definition of a Wildlife Reserve

Cattle and wildlife forced to share pasture

In Sept 2009, towards the end of a very serious drought spell, I wrote a feature for SWARA magazine about what I had been seeing in the Samburu and Buffalo Springs Reserves. Livestock had taken over these protected areas, with camels and donkeys often moving without herdsmen in all parts of the reserve. The ground was already littered with rotting cow carcasses that were originally only brought in at night and later in the autumn, openly during the day.

By this time, the grazing resources for wildlife were so depleted that some of the few Cape Buffaloes left came to the area around our camp to lie down and die; the rangers then pulled them out of sight of tourists and their noses.  There were about sixty buffalo in the Samburu reserve prior to the drought; they were all wiped out and never came back (some remain in Shaba, another totally degraded reserve). The warthog also took a beating and pretty much all disappeared but their numbers have recovered in the years since.

At the time, I went to see the warden and asked about the official policy on livestock overrunning the reserve while tourists were still being asked to pay to see wildlife. With a lot of livestock perishing after the last grass had been consumed, the remaining wildlife soon started to go the way of the cattle; a situation which could have largely been avoided – at least in these protected areas – if the wildlife, and with it tourism, had been given priority . Tourism is the biggest employer in the county.

I was told by the warden: “These are our people and their livestock is their livelihood. We cannot give priority to wildlife.”

Cattle are turning Samburu National Reserve into a dust-bowl

It looks like 2017 could turn into another 2009 with no change in policy and no new measures to deal with the excessive livestock; no apparent campaigns in those parts to buy up excessive animals by the authorities or NGOs. While a new abattoir exists at Isiolo, there is supposedly no water to run it. No canning facilities have been set up to process the meat to possibly give or sell to the starving human population. This at the time when local papers report that Mt. Kenya governors are looking for KSh 770 million for drought relief.

As of last week, the sheeps and goats could be seen on the Samburu and Buffalo springs side of the river, all day long, in their hundreds if not thousands. They are taken down to the river for a watering session towards midday. At night, the cattle comes in (it was evident the next morning based on the fresh droppings).

Lions feeding on a camel killed at night in the reserve

On our last morning, we found two lions feeding on a camel that had clearly been brought in at night; the lions had taken advantage of the opportunity. We photographed the lions feeding and went back a few hours later.  The lions had left, but there were no vultures or any other scavenger at the carcass. In fact we had not seen any vultures during our three day stay, as on many previous occasions.

The white cliffs above the Shaba Sarova lodge, where a large vulture colony used to nest, is deserted; it seems all these cleanup agents have disappeared. Supposedly – like pretty much everywhere else – they have been indirectly poisoned by pastoralists lacing carcasses like the camel we had found that morning:  an act of revenge by the herdsmen.

Information provided to local pastoralists is being ignored, resulting in predation

Returning to our camp, we looked for a phone number on the poster advertising the Samburu lion conservation project, which asks tourists to report lion activities. There was none, only a link to a web page; we were going to ask the conservationists in charge to monitor the camel carcass we had seen in the centre of the reserve and ensure it was not going to be laced with poison.

Next to the poster on the lion conservation project was another one showing ways of constructing proper predator-safe bomas for cattle and other livestock.  The donors listed for this campaign included a range of US Zoos.

It seemed kind of ironic to create awareness among tourist visitors of what pastoralists could and should be doing to avoid conflict with the type of predator each tourist hopes to see, while at the same time the area reserved for wildlife, including these predators, is overrun with cattle, camels and donkeys moving around, tempting the remaining predators into going for an easy meal. The sturdiness of their bomas not being an issue at all.

Big areas around these reserves have now been cultivated and promoted as community based conservation areas, with local communities having signed on to projects that would yield jobs and assistance with a wide range of infrastructure investment. Projects that are all fundraising on the basis of local communities now fully engaged with a range of conservation efforts. But who owns all the thousands of head of livestock? Who was ignoring the Reserve rules and regulations? Who was jeopardizing the tourism industry and driving the wildlife into even more marginal areas? None of the guides at the camp had an answer to these questions.

Our entry tickets to the reserve had been issued before

The friends we had taken on Safari were asked to pay US $ 470 in park entry fees for their three day stay in the Reserve.  The tickets were not sold at the gate we originally entered (as in the past), but we were asked to pay at the camp we stayed at.  The rangers promptly came.  Our resident tickets were in order and paid for.  Our friends paid for their foreign visitor tickets.

These had clearly been stamped for previous visitors in January. It was now February and they were stamped over again with a new date. Clearly a lot of this embezzlement was going on and I was pretty confident our friends could have resold their tickets at a heavily discounted rate at the end of their stay so they could be used and stamped a third time. Sadly the council that is meant to take care of the reserve infrastructure and assist communities with income from revenue streams such as the Reserve entry fees will have its effort curtailed by their staff on the ground involved in these corrupt practices.

Goats and sheep are devastating the local landscape

I complained to the camp management and was told that the warden would come and see me to discuss these issues.  Nobody showed up but I was given the phone number by the camp management, which I had made very uncomfortable by voicing my concern in such a way that other tourists could follow the conversation.  I called him after we got home to again ask what the priorities were as far as giving the tourists the product they were looking and paying for.

After several attempts, I got the deputy warden who told me that the warden was out of post and he did not know when he would be back.  I asked him if he could answer some of my questions to which he agreed. When I asked him about the official policy regarding livestock grazing in the park and ticket control measures he said that only the warden could provide an answer and he would send me his direct mobile line by SMS. Despite several reminders I never got it, so I feel I have provided the right to respond.

Karl Ammann 2017-05-16

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