Jambo (hello), and welcome to my field notes blog! I’m a Ph.D. student at Duke University (and a former TWS policy intern), and I’ll be sharing here some of my research reports, personal experiences, and discussions about some of the current challenges facing East African wildlife conservation.
I’ll be in the field from April to July 2013, landing in Nairobi and heading straight down to the Maasai Mara National Reserve — best known as the host of the Great Migration and home to thousands upon thousands of wildlife species.
This field season kicks off my dissertation research, and to get started, I’ll be working with a local charity (the Anne K. Taylor Fund) that’s recently received a grant from National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative to build predator-proof cattle fences along the western side of the Mara. I’m tasked with collecting data about the fence program, hoping to answer some fundamental questions about the project — namely, just how well these fences work.
Cattle fences may not sound like conservation, but these kinds of programs are a critical part of resolving the human-wildlife conflict that threatens lion, leopard, and cheetah populations across Africa.
It’s important to know that apex predator populations are in decline worldwide, and big cats are particularly at risk (Dickman 2010, Mogensen et al 2011). In the human-dominated pastoral landscapes of East Africa, the ranges of large predators often overlap with human activity, and human-wildlife conflict arises most often in the form of livestock depredation.
Because depredation poses a significant threat to livelihoods, it often leads to the retaliatory killing of predators — a major challenge to the sustainability of local populations (Patterson et al. 2004, Kolowski & Holekamp 2006, Kissui 2008, Hazzah et al. 2009). This type of conflict has contributed to the precipitous decline of the African predator population over the past 50 years (Riggio et al. 2012).
Thus, with an eye toward preserving the remaining predator populations, conservationists working throughout East and Southern Africa have sought to reduce the threat posed by lions (and other large predators) by implementing projects to help fortify or redesign livestock fence enclosures, or “bomas.”
Several organizations have reported anecdotal success with reducing predation through the creation of these fortified bomas; however, to date, very few studies have measured the effectiveness of these structures in preventing livestock loss and stopping retaliatory lion killing.
The Anne K. Taylor Fund (AKTF) operates in the TransMara and Mara North regions of Kenya, and over the past three years, has fortified more than 300 Maasai bomas (using aluminum and chain-link fencing) in villages along the western border of the Masai Mara National Reserve. In 2012, the founder of this organization, Anne Kent Taylor, received a grant from the National Geographic Society’s Big Cats Initiative that will support the fortification of many more existing Maasai bomas.
Understanding the exact impact of boma fortification on livestock loss means that I can work with AKTF to better design, implement, and assess the next phase of their Boma Fortification Project — and can advise other conservationists on best practices for building bomas in other parts of Africa.
I look forward to sharing my notes and experiences with you here, and am always happy to hear comment from the TWS community!
Asante (thank you),
P.S. Want to know more? Follow me on Twitter (@aesutz) or check out my blog A Lion’s Life For Me.
Brief Bio: Alexandra Sutton is a Ph.D. student at Duke University, working on predator conservation in sub-Saharan Africa with Stuart Pimm, chair of Conservation Ecology at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University.
Citations & Further Reading:
Hazzah L., Borgerhoff Mulder M., and L. Frank. 2009. Lions and Warriors: Social factors underlying declining African lion populations and the effect of incentive-based management in Kenya. Biological Conservation 142: 2428 – 2437.
Kissui, B.M. 2008. Livestock predation by lions, leopards, spotted hyenas, and their vulnerability to retaliatory killing in the Maasai steppe, Tanzania. Animal Conservation 11: 422–432.
Kolowski, J.M., and K. E. Holekamp. 2006. Spatial, temporal, and physical characteristics of livestock depredations by large carnivores along a Kenyan reserve border. Biological Conservation 128: 529 – 541.
Mogensen N.L., Ogutu J.O., and T. Dabelsteen. 2011. The effects of pastoralism and protection on lion behaviour, demography and space use in the Mara Region of Kenya. African Zoology 46: 78-87.
Ogada M.O., Woodroffe R., Oguge N., and L.G. Frank. 2003. Limiting depredation by African carnivores: the role of livestock husbandry. Conservation Biology 17: 1521 – 1530.
Patterson B.D., Kasiki S.M., Selempo E., and R.W Kays. 2004. Livestock predation by lions (Panthera leo) and other carnivores on ranches neighboring Tsavo National Parks, Kenya. Biological Conservation 119: 507–516.
Riggio J., Jacobson A., Dollar, L., Bauer, H., Becker, M., Dickman, A., Funston P.,Groom R., Henschel P., de Iongh H., Lichtenfeld L., and S. Pimm. 2013. The size of savannah Africa: a lion’s (Panthera leo) view. Biodiversity and Conservation 22: 17-35.
Woodroffe R., Lindsey P., Romanach S., Stein A., and S.M.K. ole Ranah. 2005. Livestock predation by endangered African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) in northern Kenya. Biological Conservation 124: 225 – 234.