'Ceasefire', for now, in Amboseli

Thu Jul 19, 2012 2:35 pm

Big Life Foundation
July 19 Update

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Last night, July 18, the Maasai community and council leaders announced that all wildlife killing around Amboseli was to stop immediately. A meeting was set between them and the Director of the Kenya WIldlife Service for August 6. We hope that this time, the Maasai communities' demands for a more fair share of income from wildlife/tourism will be listened to.

Be aware that this 'ceasefire' remains a tentative one. If things go badly on August 6 between KWS and the Maasai, the killing could kick back into action again.

Both sides badly need to listen to common sense now. Both parties must not allow the animals - for both, their richest source of revenue and thus well-being into the future - to be the butchered, innocent pawns tragically caught in the middle.

Meanwhile, at this moment, Richard Bonham, Big Life's Director of Operations, is in the air scouring to the north for two groups of warriors who, their blood still up, have ignored the directive from county leaders to stop the killing. This is what happens when you incite and stir things up - it's not always that easy to bring the testosterone back down.

The killed elephant in the photos was a 33 year old male elephant called Bronowsky. He was well-known as a very mellow, relaxed elephant that used to spend much time in close proximity to the Maasai bomas. It was this trust in humans that brought about his death a few days ago in the lead-up to this crisis. Whilst sleeping under a tree near the village, he was killed with a single spear to his heart. He had never hurt anyone, nor had he raided any crops.

Big Life Foundation's 70 rangers on the Kenyan side are still not allowed to go back to work in the field. Three days ago, all Big Life and other community rangers around Amboseli in Kenya were instructed to stand down by the community leaders, as they would not be safe once the warriors went on their rampage - even though the communities' problem is all related to KWS, not Big Life or other NGO's working to protect the ecosystem and its animals.

In the meantime, Big Life's platoon commander in Tanzania marshalled several Big Life Tanzanian units up to the border, to protect elephant herds that were fleeing over into Tanzania for safety from marauding warriors. Richard Bonham flew multiple sorties for two days over the Kenyan side to alert where incidents were occurriing .

But right now, the Big Life teams in Kenya need to get back into the field as soon as possible, to continue the incredibly productive work that they have been doing for the last eighteen months in protecting the animals.

In that time, due to the presence of the combined 120+ rangers in 14 outposts spread across the ecosystem, the poaching of elephants and ALL other animals has been dramatically reduced from where it was in the two years before their presence. The vast majority of the time, poachers are now successfully apprehended and arrested by the Big Life teams working in conjunction with KWS. Incidents of human/wildlife conflict have also been greatly reduced as a result of the excellent co-operation between Big Life's teams and the local communities.

This week's incidents have been heart-breaking. The politics have taken Big Life's ability to protect the wildlife out of our hands. But once the dust settles, and the teams are back at work before poachers take opportunistic advantage of the areas being unprotected, we are confident that we can keep the Amboseli ecosystem one of the few places in East Africa where the poaching is currently under control.

However, this obviously needs financial support. Operating with minimal organizational bureaucracy and red tape, currently 93% of donor money is channeled into the field immediately. As the illegal demand for ivory and other wildlife parts from the Far East continues to escalate, there will be many who cannot resist the easy profits to be made out of killing these irreplaceable creatures.

Elephants, humans die as hostility soars

Mon Aug 06, 2012 11:49 am

July 31 2012 at 06:00pm
By JAMES CLARKE

Cape Town - Ten days ago, 200 Maasai “warriors”, in an act of vengeance, randomly speared a dozen elephants, 10 buffalo and a lion from Kenya’s Amboseli National Park – East Africa’s second most popular reserve.

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They complained they received too little spin-off from the park, yet had to put up with elephants damaging their crops and taking lives.

A month before, six lions from Nairobi National Park were speared to death by disgruntled locals.

The raids echoed the recent assault on one of SA’s most attractive reserves – Ndumo in KZN – when angry farmers destroyed the fence and moved in with their livestock and ploughs.

African communities are becoming fed-up with wildlife – elephants in particular. And elephants are showing increasing signs of being fed-up with humans.

Specialists in animal behaviour believe that after years of being abused and of being more and more constricted, translocated and poached, elephants are hitting back.

African and Asian elephants are killing about 500 people a year, according to Brian Handwerk of National Geographic. He says it’s because they are being pushed into smaller and smaller pockets “and increasingly they are pushing back”.

From SA to the Sudan there have been so many fatal conflicts between elephants and people as well as crop damage that scientists have set up a Human Elephant Conflict programme as part of a worldwide Human Wildlife Conflict initiative backed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

A paper – Human-wildlife Conflict in Africa, published by the Food and Agricultural Organisation in Rome – reported that the antipathy among rural Africans towards elephants “goes beyond that expressed for any other wildlife”.

It said people living in central Africa “fear and detest” elephants; that farmers in Zimbabwe display “ingrained hostility” towards them. “(They) are the focus of all local animosity toward wildlife.”

There’s evidence that today’s elephants are suffering from chronic stress brought about by prolonged habitat reduction, ceaseless poaching, culling and mass translocations. People who have had experience with these intelligent creatures know that elephants, like whales and dolphins, are sociable animals with strong family bonds and have an ultra long-range communication system outside of human hearing. As a result, dealing with the elephant overpopulation in parts of southern Africa is proving to be extremely complex.

Dr Gay Bradshaw, a psychologist and ecologist at Oregon State University who is involved in their environmental sciences programme concerned with Human Elephant Conflict, says: “Everybody pretty much agrees that the relationship between elephants and people has dramatically changed.

“What we are seeing today is extraordinary. Where for centuries humans and elephants lived in relatively peaceful coexistence, there is now hostility and violence.”

Bradshaw and her colleagues, in a 2005 article in the science journal Nature titled Elephant Breakdown, say elephants are displaying increased animosity.

Human Elephant Conflict threatens the future of Africa’s game reserves. Unless rural people who live among wild and dangerous animals derive tangible benefits from their situation – and soon – they will continue to support poaching. Most non-government wildlife organisations are blissfully unaware of the seriousness of the human-wildlife conflict.

Eighty percent of Africa’s wildlife lives outside protected areas, yet those who live among them have no say in their management and receive little or no benefit from the tourism that Africa’s wildlife brings.

Elephants are behaving in a way never before encountered because, says Bradshaw, “stress has so disrupted the intricate web of familial and societal relations by which young elephants have traditionally been raised in the wild, and by which established elephant herds are governed, that what we are now witnessing is nothing less than a precipitous collapse of elephant culture”.

She says they are showing signs of a societal breakdown.

It appears we are driving elephants mad.

In many regions of Africa there is an increasing human toll caused by elephants as well as increasing crop damage. There is also an increasing toll of elephants themselves – mostly by Far Eastern ivory smugglers who fund African poachers and bribe government officials and ministers.

The IUCN says an average of 104 elephants are killed daily in Africa – close to 38 000 a year. Recognising the increased tensions between elephants and humans, it has launched a worldwide project to hopefully alleviate some of the suffering – on both sides.

Human Elephant Conflict poses serious challenges to wildlife managers, local communities, conservationists worldwide and to the IUCN’s African Elephant Specialist Group and its Asian counterpart.

Between 1900 and 1984 Africa’s elephant population was reduced by 93 percent and is now found in only 5 percent of the continent. Its numbers have fallen from 1.3 million in the early 1970s to about 450 000 today. This recent sharp decline in numbers has mainly been due to poaching.

Wildlife because of “eco-tourism” – viewing wildlife, wilderness trails, wildlife photography and hunting – is in parts of rural Africa the only “cash crop”. Properly managed, it is a self-sustaining high-employment industry – and the African elephant is its star attraction. - Weekend Argus