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.

Conservation efforts in the Amboseli ecosystem have made it possible for herds like this one to continue to grow

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 TrustMaasai Wilderness Conservation TrustLion 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.

A herd sniffing the air in distress

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.

If this political unrest is not resolved soon we worry for the safety and future of all wildlife in Amboseli


  • ann smith says:

    I have met some of your Warriors and admire your work. I am a good friend of Cynthia Moss and Nick Brandt and they have keep me informed about the horrific situation there. I was just at Cynthia’s camp in Feb. with her and saw Ezra. My heart is broken. I am so disappointed in the childish behavior of these Maasai “Warriors” who take out their frustrations on innocent animals … shame on them! I will never feel the same about them after this…

  • Philip Edwards says:

    We have visited amboseli twice, and are due to return again later this year – we think it’s a fantastic place, and the conservation efforts are wonderful.
    Unless this killing is stopped everyone will be the poorer – local people financially, and others wil the opportunity to experience the wildlife. An amicable solution MUST be found, brains, not brawn, must prevail.

  • Tembo says:

    Interesting article- I’m curious that you consider this human wildlife conflict when the incident of the buffalo precipitated a greedy and corrupt politician to incite violence towards wildlife. The issue is about revenue and a KWS-human conflict- not really a human- wildlife conflict.

  • teresa says:

    I think the people should get alot more of the money. Then they would be more incented to protect the wildlife. This should be about protecting the wildlife from both points of view. Instead it is about money. But when they kill all of the wildlife….the tourist money will certainly be gone

  • Kate Nicholls says:

    Your work is exemplary but this incident clearly shows that human/wildlife conflict is only part of the mosaic of 21st century conservation. At the excellent meeting held in Johannesburg in 2006 a management strategy for Eastern and Southern African lions was drawn up. Here is one of the strategic goals:
    The goal of this strategy is to secure, and where possible, restore
    sustainable lion populations throughout their present and potential range
    within Eastern and Southern Africa, recognizing their potential to provide
    substantial social, cultural, ecological and economic benefits.
    To achieve this goal, this strategy sets out six objectives in six different
    domains, which are:
    1. Management: To ensure effective conservation management of lions, their
    habitats and wild prey
    2. Mitigation: To minimize and, where possible, eliminate human-lion related
    3. Socio-economics: To equitably distribute the costs and benefits of longterm
    lion management
    4. Policy and land-use: To develop and implement harmonious,
    comprehensive legal and institutional frameworks that provide for the
    expansion of wildlife-integrated land-use, lion conservation and associated
    socio-economic benefits in current and potential lion range
    5. Politics: To ensure that global policies better reflect the will and intent of
    regional and national sustainable use policies and practices
    6. Trade: To prevent illegal trade in lions and lion products while promoting
    and safeguarding sustainable legal trade

    The lion guardians offer a laudable example of how objective 2 can be met but can only have long term hope of success if objectives 3 and 4 are achieved. To the best of my knowledge there are no wildlife conservation programs that equitably distribute income generated by wildlife. Revenue generated by: park entrance fees to protected areas; photographic tourism and or trophy hunting fail lamentably as far as equitable distribution is concerned and as a result fail as sound long term conversational strategies. The days of placatory promises to communities living in or near wildlife areas are over and further uprisings such as the one described will follow until sensible binding agreements are reached that offer a fair distribution of the considerable wealth generated by wildlife.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Share This

Copy Link to Clipboard