Conflict and politics in Amboseli
Human-wildlife conflict in any pastoralist environment is inevitable and has existed since time immemorial therefore Amboseli ecosystem is no exception. The negotiations leading to the creation of the Amboseli National Park in the early 1970’s were not smooth and due to the political tensions and resulting hunting, the rhino population was decimated. In the early 1990’s, populations of key wildlife species like buffalo, elephants and lions were also nearly wiped out due to spearing from further conflicts with surrounding communities as well as age-set traditional hunts . A community based conservation approach spearheaded by various stakeholders helped restore sanity and within a short time, wildlife populations recovered. A transformed Kenya Wildlife Service adopted the community oriented approach to conservation which eventually led to the distribution of a certain percentage of the total gate collection from Amboseli as revenue sharing to adjacent Group Ranches.
The emergence of various community conservancies and sanctuaries created both awareness and an economic venture that brought significant benefits to the community. The creation of conservation organizations like Maasailand Preservation Trust, Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust, Lion Guardians and the critical intervention of African Wildlife Foundation as well as other important stakeholders widened the scope of understanding and took communal tolerance to a higher level. Lion Guardians and community game scouts within neighboring Group Ranches in collaboration with KWS rangers provided the much needed security intervention in conflict resolutions. For several years, apart from the usual conservation bottlenecks and challenges, everything has gone smoothly. In fact, for the first time in a decade, not a single lion was killed within the Amboseli ecosystem last year and all stakeholders were extremely proud of their vital contributions! KWS declared 2012 ’The Year of Communities’ and we were all hoping for the best.
Then a few days ago, an isolated but significant incident happened. A buffalo critically injured a person who eventually succumbed to death. This is nothing extraordinary since we have experienced this over the years. It is alleged that when the community asked for compensation, a KWS personnel responded in what was considered an insulting manner. The people went back, consulted and brought various grievances against KWS. In the morning, they mobilized able-bodied men, went into the Park, killed a buffalo and speared 4 elephants. They demanded a meeting with the KWS Director to no avail and they demanded another meeting to be held in a weeks time, which also did not occur. There and then, logic and reason took a back seat, anger and emotions took control while incitement took center-stage. Killing of key wildlife species started in the Group Ranches. Politically incited hunts, once started, are unstoppable.
What started as an ordinary human-wildlife conflict was transformed into a national issue when historical injustices spearheaded by politicians of Kajiado County, were brought forward. The local leaders no longer wanted to deal with KWS Amboseli but desired the institutional management, headquartered in Nairobi. A promise of 25% of total Amboseli gate collection as revenue sharing to the community by Former President Daniel Arap Moi became the bone of contention as leaders said they are currently receiving only 2%. A meeting to resolve the impasse is scheduled for the 6th August 2012. Even though we are unable to yet take stock of the damage caused by no less than 25 hunts in a span of 4 days, we can confirm the death of at least one elephant and two buffalos. Despite these hunts, after our strategic but diplomatic intervention, we are glad to inform you that to the best of our knowledge, no lion has been killed. We will keep you updated.