Elvis Kisimir is the African People & Wildlife Fund’s Human Wildlife Conflict Officer. He is a young Maasai man, well known and respected in the Maasai Steppe where the National Geographic Big Cats Initiative and Dr. Laly Lichtenfeld of the African People & Wildlife Fund have teamed up to save lions.
In 2003 APW began developing a system for monitoring lion attacks on large carnivores which Elvis now uses. A network of community informants helps him to learn of lion (and other large carnivore) attacks on livestock. After an attack occurs, he visits the site and collects critical information from the herdsmen about the event, taking photos and a GPS point. Back at the Noloholo Environmental Center, Elvis enters this information into a conflict database provided by Awely, Wildlife & People, a French organization that involves local communities with wildlife conservation.
In this blog post, Emily Myron of the Duke Big Cats Intiative intern team interviews Elvis Kisimir:
What do lions mean to you and your community?
For us Maasai, the lion is very important. For the warrior age group, killing a lion marks you as a hero. According to Maasai tradition, if there is no lion, there is no warrior. We need to keep our lions for the next generation.
The lion is also very important for me because I am in the age group that is now leading the Maasai people. I am not killing lions, though; I am protecting them by advising people not to kill lions. I will not hunt them because I have seen their numbers decreasing. We must increase their numbers so that there are lions for future generations.
What are your thoughts about livestock/lion conflict?
In my opinion, this year the conflict in Loibor Siret is now lower due to Living Walls. Also, poisoning is not as common in Loibor Siret as it was in other years. The main conflict we have now is at bomas without Living Walls.
Lions also attack cattle in the pasture. This happens when a herder is sleeping and the animals wander away. We still need to work on this.
How do you feel about Living Walls (Ukuta Hai in Swahili)?
Ukuta Hai are very important for livestock keepers because they have reduced livestock depredation for the Maasai people. There was a lot of conflict with predators before the construction of the Living Walls. As an example, in the Oltepeleki area, there was a lot of conflict with lions before the construction of Living Walls, but we have not experienced any this year. Now, most people want their own Living Walls.
Really, Narakauo and Kimotorok need Living Walls, too. We are just beginning to collect information in Kimotorok, and there is a lot of conflict. In Narakauo, we have a pilot Living Wall, and we are collecting conflict information there as well. They probably have a lot of conflict because they keep many more cows than the other villages. Once you have many cattle, you must graze far out in the bush because there is not enough grass near the main village. So, people put bomas in areas where predators also live. We hope to put Living Walls in those areas soon because lions cannot attack bomas with the Living Walls.
Give us an example of what you do as part of your job.
Last month, we had a lion attack in a temporary boma area. There were only two people in the corral, herding 250 cattle. At night, (3:00 am) they heard a lion roaring far away. Then, after an hour, suddenly, the cattle broke out of the boma and went into the bush. The two morans (warriors) woke up and tried to follow the cattle, and they found two lions (a male and female) attacking the cattle. But, because there were only two of them, it was dark, and they didn’t know if there were more lions, the morans decided not to try to kill the lions yet. They gathered the cattle and brought them back to the boma.
In the morning, one of the morans went into the village and tried to gather more morans together to try to find the two lions. At this point, I had been called and I was with them. We tried to follow the tracks for almost two hours, and we found the lions laying in the shade. Within the whole group, I knew there were only 3 spears – held by young warriors, young morans. I knew they were not capable to kill the lions, and they decided to go back to the boma. They were scared and wanted to call people with firearms to come help.
Back at the boma, the morans got together with the men with firearms and we went out again, but I knew the lions were already gone and I kept telling them that they had gone very far away. I convinced them, because it was getting late, to go home and fortify the boma instead. They pulled new branches into the boma to keep the lions from attacking the next night. After fixing the boma, the morans decided to go back to the village.
On the way to the village, we were sharing ideas about the lions and about what happened. Then, I advised them not to kill the lions because they are very few in number. Most of us are warriors and we are not considered warriors until we live with lions, so we need them. If there is a problem, herders need to call our organization and get assistance – not kill the lions. Also, killing lions is illegal, so they may be caught by the authority. They understood and said they would call if they saw lions around the bomas. Then, I left my contact with them so anyone who sees a lion can call or contact me so that we can assist them and give advice on constructing Living Walls. Finally, I advised them not to construct the temporary bomas along wildlife corridors because it increases conflict.
Any other thoughts?
We need groups of livestock keepers to have seminars so that they can understand that lion numbers are decreasing. Having lions is very important to the Maasai culture, so we must keep them for future generations, even though there are conflicts. We are trying to reduce conflict with Living Walls and good advice. The Maasai have to focus on what the next generation will be if there are no lions. Do we really, as Maasai, want to see lions in photos and not real lions? They have to care about that.