LOCATION: Amboseli Ecosystem, Kenya
GOAL: To reduce human-wildlife conflict (loss of livestock and retaliatory killings of lions), and promote co-existence between people and carnivores
ACTIONS: Constructing predator-proof bomas, including smart bomas, which are a cost-effective approach to protecting livestock from predation at night
Kenya’s Amboseli Ecosystem is one of the richest wildlife areas in all of Africa and a stronghold for lions. Lions have declined across their range; in Kenya alone, their numbers plummeted from 10,000 in the 1980s to only about 2,000 today. Amboseli is a hotspot for human–lion conflict, and this is one of the main threats to the big cats’ survival.
Livestock predation is a serious problem to the Maasai people living in Amboseli. A single loss of an animal can deprive the Maasai of their livelihood and result in strong emotions and tension. Some community members retaliate by poisoning and spearing lions. Between 2001–2006, an average of 18 lions were killed per year.
Born Free’s Pride of Amboseli programme has been working in the region since 2010 to reduce human–lion conflict and promote co-existence between people and carnivores. The key way we address human–lion conflict is by building predator-proof bomas (PPBs). These are a simple, cost-effective approach to protecting livestock from predation at night. Each consists of erecting a ring of strong poles, spaced three metres apart, around the thorn boma; then a two-metre high hexagonal steel wire mesh is put in place. The entire PPB is constructed with recycled materials: doors are made from old metal drums, door hinges are cut from old car tyres or old Maasai sandals, and posts are made from recycled plastic. The process is based on a cost-sharing approach, whereby communities contribute towards the cost of the materials needed for strengthening their traditional thorn enclosures while also providing labour to help with construction.
In 2015, we began adding ‘smart’ components to the PPBs, including solar lighting, energy-saving stoves and water harvesting structures to enhance rural development. Smart bomas have significant positive impacts on the quality of living for pastoralist families, whilst also protecting carnivores and their habitat. In the past nine years, we have built >300 PPBs, protecting approximately 5,800 people and 83,000 livestock. No livestock has been killed inside PPBs to date. Due to the efforts of organisations including Born Free, lion numbers are rebounding: there are now approximately 200 individuals, up from an estimated 50 at the beginning of the programme.
Born Free is also the main sponsor of the Maasai Olympics, operated by Big Life Foundation, an event that offers Maasai warriors an alternative to killing lions as part of their traditional rite of passage. The event instead encourages young men to compete in an organised sports competition based on their traditional warrior skills. They compete in six events: 5,000m, 800m, 200m, high jump, javelin, and rungu throw. There are also two events for women: 1,500m and 100m. As well as the competitive element, the event also aims to educate local communities about the conservation of lions and wildlife, and the importance of human–wildlife co-existence and tolerance.