BENEFITING: Maasai Wilderness Conservation
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Report from Luca Belpietro and Samson Parashina
In February, for the first time in more than 3 years, a lion was killed in Kuku in reaction to an incident of lion-livestock predation.
The lion killed was a lioness well-known to MWCT and to Campi ya Kanzi that was called 'Nosero' (Thick cover, in Maa: she liked to hide in the lava forests).
In 2007 she was collared for the first time and was thereafter frequently tracked by MWCT Simba Scouts, so her movements, behavior and reproduction history were well-known and documented.
The incident in which Nosero was killed was very unfortunate. On the 19th of February, early in the morning, a party of young Maasai warriors (morani) went out on a traditional lion hunt to kill the lion that was responsible for the killing of a lost cow the previous day. The hunt was planned at night and MWCT was not alerted in time. Unfortunately, Nosero and her three cubs were found feeding on the cow carcass at the time the morani arrived and Nosero and two cubs were killed. The other cub was lost. Even more unfortunately, one of the Maasai warriors was severely injured during this hunt and, tragically, passed away before he could be brought to the health center in Iltilal. It has been over 3 years since a lion was killed by Maasai on Kuku and over 30 years since a human life was lost from this community due to a lion hunt.
In the weeks prior to the fatal hunt, there had been a sharp rise in lion hunts with practically every incident of lion-livestock predation leading to another hunt. In the years during which MWCT's wildlife protection / livestock compensation program, Wildlife Pays, has been implemented, there had been a marked drop off of such hunts, as the community embraced the reliability of the compensation for losses and increased economic benefit of tourism. But a significant 'cultural moment' within the community...the initiation of a new Warrior age set...drove new pressure against this happy partnership.
MWCT Rangers, Verifying Officers, Simba Scouts and KWS intervened to stop 12 hunts in all of 2012 but more than 8 hunts were mounted just in the first 50 days of 2013. Several meetings were held with the new Maasai warriors and the community elders, but despite all the effort to convince the morani to stop hunting lions, they still went out on this particular hunt and killed Nosero before MWCT could be made aware of the plan.
Any time we fail to stop the unnecessary killing of even one animal, especially a threatened one like a lion, we are very saddened. But it is important to place this somewhat inevitable single event in context.
In 2005, two years before Wildlife Pays was implemented, the number of lions killed on Kuku Group Ranch alone was averaging 9 or 10 a year. Since Wildlife Pays was implemented the number of lions killed decreased dramatically to only 5 lions killed in nearly 7 years. The human-caused lion mortality rate decreased by 92%.
And, to reiterate, 2013 was widely anticipated to be a seriously challenging year due to the significant cultural event of a new warrior age set being inducted. This is traditionally when many lions are killed throughout the ecosystem by newly minted young warriors eager to prove their manhood through a traditional hunt. In February alone, prior to the incident of 19 February in which Nosero was killed, MWCT in collaboration with KWS stopped 6 lion hunts. 2 others were stopped in January. The killing of this lioness and her 2 cubs was the only loss in a month that, without MWCT's intervention, might have seen a dozen lions killed.
Finally, Nosero herself is testament to the impact of our program. In the wild, the lifespan of lions is approximately 10 to 15 years. Nosero reached the age of 12 years which is very old especially considering that she lived outside a National Park in a human dominated landscape. In the course of her long life, this lioness predated on cattle multiple times and would have been hunted each time if it was not for Wildlife Pays.
She is known to have given birth to 5 litters and 15 cubs across those years. So MWCT's efforts allowed this single lioness to add 9 lions (3 of her cubs were killed by a lion last year) to the local population across 12 years.
While saddened by any loss, we consider Nosero's life a shining example of how MWCT's work is assisting the Tsavo-Amboseli lion population to recover.
Luca and Samson