The lion project

Mission 1: Nabiosho Lion Project
http://www.lionconservation.org/mara-predator-project.html

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.

SONY DSC

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”.

A little bit outside the conservancy we lived during these days together with Niels and his girlfriend Crystal in his mud house near a Maasai village. It’s a very simple way of living with no water close by. Niels drove us around searching for lions all day. We saw alot of incredeble animals , but the lions made sure to keep out.

The Maasai culture is based very largely on livestock and depending on how many cows / sheep / goats a family has, the higher status of the family. As the amount of livestock is so important, the Maasai will stay with as many animals as possible and rarely slaughter an animal, even if they have hundred. Inside the conservancy the grassis meter high but when you go over the border of it,  the grass is only a few millimeters long and large areas are just full of mud . Red oat becomes the only grass species that can handle the harsh grazing pressure and other plants that wildlife depend on will disappear. Ostriches and buffaloes are much more common in the protected areas, just liek almost any species. However, ostriches and buffaloes serves as good indicator species. Outside the conservancy ostrich eggs gets picked and the buffaloes are competing for exactly the same behavior as the cattle. If the rules and borders of the concervancy is not respected, these species will be among the first ones to decline.

Some of the work to protect the lions and their prey in the area is to inform local people about the situation. They preach quality over quantity” to the massai peope, because the large amount of animals are often malnourished anyway and not good enough to do more than count as status symbol. A reduced grazing pressure from domestic livestock would benefit the wild game animals, as well as te life quality of the domestic herds making them more resistant to droughts and disease.  In turn, lions would hopefully less often have to kill domestic livestock in order to feed due to the higher wildlife populations.

The last night visiting Niels night, we wanted to test our tent before the tour to Bogoriasjön (which is our next destination), which we had to do at one of the camp staff area in Naboisho. Although we visited the lion project in Naboisho we never got to see any lions, but all night long in the tent, we could hear their cries nearby.

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