Kenya

Conservation: Mara Nabiosho Lion Project

Niels mogensen photographing lion

When we arrived to the airport in the early morning, we were both quite exhausted. Everything ha been a mess since I had lost my passport at the airport.

Our first mission was to meet up with the danish lion researcher Niels Mogensen, who investigating in how he can decrease conflict between the masai people and the lions. He was the coordinator for the Mara Naboisho Lion project. Now the project has emerged to the Mara Predator Project. It seems relativley unknown to common people, but lions are considered to be an endangered species and their decline in recent years in Kenya had by 2012 been imense. Naboisho is on conservancy which is located right north on the border to famous Masai Mara and is part of its ecosystem. The goal of the lion project is of course to prevent the on going decline of the lion population in Kenya.

To get to Naboisho we took the Matatu (a minibus). The environment soon changed from the bissy city to the great grasslands.  The sight of the endless landscape of the savannah in east Africa reminded us somehow of a sunny day on the sea – the monotonic and flack surroundings spreads out evenly in all directions. Every now and then a giraffe looked  up from the thorny akacia branches or a zebra or two would look through the bushes in the heavily grazed land.

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After the 8-10 hour long bustrip to Niels, we finally met him. We went to the store to grab some water, fruits and of course a couple of bears to grab by the fire. The following days we drove around with Niels to make interviews and to see why this project was important. We lived together with him in a small cottage made out of clay that Niels and his girlfriend Crystal built. It was located just at the edge of the reserve right next to a massai village.

Almost no matter what you work to protect as a conservationist, cultural crashes always happeneds with the local people. Often there are people which hunt the species for food, for beauty or to protect their homes. This case is no exception. But the biggest problem which the Massai cause due to their culture may not be that they would like to protect the animals (which of course makes sense). Massia hierarchy is measured through their count of cattle. This may sound legit, but in fact the cattle they have is very often malnourished meaning they bearly count as a food source for them and can hardly produce any milk. The function of the cattle is sometimes no other but to work as a status symbol. The problem with this is that the cattle also outcompetes all the other grazers, leaving an almost dead land behind. This makes the border of Mara Naboisho easy to see, as there is a line of fine cut grass. Cultural issues and differences always have to be treated with respect of eachother. However this behaviour doesn’t really profit anyone.

Unexpectedly, the impact of facebook may be just as big in the African wilderness as it has in Sweden. Through solarpower it can be used for networking between different conversation keepers. However, Niels told us that recently a lion had attacked and killed alot of cattle which upset the villagers. One of the guides updated that he will go out and kill the lion, which is quite controversal update among conservationists. However, according to the guide this was just a so called “facerape”.

Dehydration while biking  in Lake Bogoria

At dusk, the night before our trip to Bogoria, we set up our tent outside the reserve. Hornbills flew around and was looking food for their young in a hollow tree next to us and different species of starlings sang loudly. The area Bogoria renowned for its bird life and more than 350 bird species can be seen at the lake. Although it was fairly desert like and sandy w, this is one of the places which you will see the most on the TV shows by BBC. The big gatherings of the lesser flamings is the big attraction.

WWF worked with a five-year project to take conservation measures at Bogoria but that ended in 2011. Not only is the lake is home to more than a million flamingos, it is also the major kuduns last residence in Kenya. According to WWF Lake Bogoria has a unique composition of the flora, fauna and geology that makes the area an important place to preserve. Through contact with adjacent boards they had a management plan for Bogoria until 2012. Unfortunatley the many problems that arise in the area are due social factors such as poverty, increasing population and too much livestock, it is important to integrate the local population into the conservation work. The socio-economic activity in the region is highly dependent on natural resources, especially the grazing grounds and water that improves the grazing. It’s there with a lot to gain by protecting the environment in Bogoria, both for its diversity and for economic reasons.

We planned to ride 30 kilometers into the park for camping. The following morning we rented bikes and bought with us just over six liters of water. The campsite we had chosen would have access to a stream of fresh water ( the water of lake bogoria is salty, alkine and poisonous ) The calculation was simple: Ihad previously been biking in the park in 2010 on my first trip to Africa, then I had two liters of water with me. The time I had cycled twice the distance (but without the backpacks). Now we had more water at a shorter distance!

Cycling with zebras and gazellas that intensely jumps around you is as good as if can get. Safari car in all its glory , you see the animals, and they are beautiful. But you can never feel the ground shake form the hooves and get tthe dust into your nostrils from the zebras which just fled from you. It is a very close experience. The bike is quiet, creeping up on the animals and give you eye contact with them before rushing off . Animals which lives in dense vegetation, often freezes at danger ( unlike animals in open vegetation to savannah , where they flee directly ) which allowed us to get time to get a good picture before it disappears in to the bushes.

The bikes we rented were no mountain bikes. Joel’s only functioning brake, broke after about an hour of cycling, one of his pedal was basically off from the beginning and gears…forget about it!
The vegetation around Bogoria is scrubby. Almost all the bushes have thorns , some have small, millimeter -sized hook-like thorns that sinks into the skin like burdocks, others have upwards of three inches long that scratch the large wounds. Suddenly, I caught sight of the greater kudu! I jumped , slammed on the brakes and quickly jumped off the bike and went into the thick vegetation . The greater kudu is the second largest antelope in Africa (and one of the most beautiful) . In East Africa it is virtually extinct and in Kenya it is estimated that there are 180 individuals left . There were four females that ran among the bushes 20 yards away. They were faster than me (…of course!) , but I wanted to give it a try and threw myself into the bushes . Five yards later I had stuck with the neck among the thorns. The hope of getting take a picture of kudun past my eyes in front of me.
The greater kudu is an antelope which is hunted for its horn as tribes in the neighborhood makes fluets of them (and it also got good meat). An important part of the efforts to protect the kudu is to integrate people around and create awareness of its risk of extinction.13 km into the park , we made a long stop . We were actually already running out of water since we had drinken more then half. It was obvious to us now that the lake was flooded . The hot springs, which normally are located a good distance up the country , bubbled 20-30 meters into the water .
In the afternoon, we started to sluggishly turn the pedals again . I found it very hard and realized that I started to get heat stroke. I drank water but my head was still spinning. And at this moment… suddenly the road ended. The raod was flooded and we sat down and I finally got to recover a little bit. It was about 35 degrees and my brain was pounding really hard against the skull .
The only way to advance was to climb on a rock wall into a bay, and from there go on foot to our campsite. I was tired and was trying to convince Joel that we should turn, but Joel was still alert and we decided to continue now thatthere was not much left. We left our bikes and we set off on foot with our backpacks .
The animal trails we found were chaotic , the high grass was heavyto walk in and more flooded paths turned up by hand. To reach to the point where the flooding of the bay stopped, we crawled through a narrow tunnel which seemingly were used by mongooses. The backpack got stuck unless you kept close with his nose to the ground and then you had to crawl back a bit to get loose.
The situation was quickly getting out of hand and dawn was incoming. And we were out of water. The head span round and round and both Joel and I were thirsty . The phone had no subscription . It could not be long now to our campsite. Reaching the end of the tunnel we faced a muddy passage where flies thrived. Unsure what to do next, joel climbed Joel ahead of me and was met by a steep rock wall that we would have to climb by 25 kg packing… we had no choice but to turn around. If we were to continue , we could encounter more flooded roads , passages to climb and thickets to crawl through . Even if it only would be 500 meters left, it does not matter when it takes five minutes to ten feet forward .
We crawled back . The hyraxes seemed to mock and laugh at us. Joel hurried on and as quickly as we could , we walked back to the bikes and started cycling . It was dusking and 17km back . I wobbled like a snake along the way. Joel pulled me forward . Where we had made our first stop , I sat down . Still no subscription on your phone. We ate some raisins but the lack of water made ​​it very painful to swallow.
A humming sound could remotely be identified and a motorcycle with five people stayed . We explained our situation and asked them to go and fetch water for us. An hour later, it was pitch black outside and no water had come yet . We needed water!
In the light of the full moon, Joel decided to bike through the night and  fetch water. I started putting up the tent but the wind, darkness, thirst and fatigue made ​​it time consuming. Late at night , he came back with water again and we feasted on the water. He had 8 liters and we were peeing like kings.
The next day I was still worn out and it took time for us to start our journey back to the village. We discovered I had a flat tire ( in several places ) . We got help to fix it by a guy who could use his machete as a multi-tool ( he fixed both the bike pump and the bike tube with it) but it was time consuming and we did not leave until eleven o’clock and the sun had already started to be roast hot.

What was going to be an easy ride home, turned out alot worse then I could imagine. My bicycle chain jumped constantly and I had to walk with bike 7 of the 13 kilometers that remained. Joel pulled forward but my head was getting to bad . It was 36-40 degrees Celsius , and the scarcity of water was never far away. Once more we got out of water and once more my got overheated. This was dangerous but we finally came back. I broke down at the park’s entrance where the personel friendly gave us more water.

There was alot we could learn from our trip to Bogoria how we can prepare ourselves better. However, it is considered strange that none of the many people we had contact with before we set off, not informed that the road was flooded. It turned out that there is another way to the campsite with the freshwater in the park, but this was of course out of the question for us. It took me a week to fully recover from the dehydration.

http://www.lionconservation.org/mara-predator-project.html

 

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