The historical hirola range covers ~17000 km2 spanning across southern Garissa in eastern Kenya. Until the 1980’s, these rangelands were amongst the most productive pastures in Africa and the inhabitants were mostly pastoralists who relied on their livestock for livelihood. Today, range degradation has led to a decrease in grassland says Abdullahi Ali (Founder and Director of the Hirola Conservation Programme) but the locals still keep livestock and rely on them for their livelihood. This shows how much they value their livestock and their pastoral way of life.
The hirola range also harbors other wildlife including all of Africa’s large carnivores (wild dogs, lions, cheetahs and leopards). The locals and wildlife have co-existed in eastern Kenya for millennia but conflict has escalated in recent years. This is a serious conservation issue since the predators attack livestock which not only contributes to their daily bread but is also very dear to them since time immemorial. Consequently, the locals have been forced to retaliate after a few incidents and this emerging issue threatens the continued co-existence of humans and wildlife.
“We used to have calm nights not long ago. Today we get at least one village calling for help every week. They come at night to jump over our livestock corrals marauding our livestock. We make huge losses because of carnivores.” Reiterated Mzee Yussuf, an elder from Kotile village.
Mzee Yussuf took us to his neighbour, Hussein, whose corral had been raided three weeks before. Hussein had lost one of his cows to lions. He was bitter and emotional as we spoke to him and we could clearly understand how deep this issue affects them. He showed us some of the remains of his cow as he narrated the ordeal he and his family went through that night.
He was woken up by noises from the livestock corral and peeped through a hole from his shanty make-shift only to see one of his cows pinned down by a lion. Hussein took his whistle to raise alarm as his wife screamed for help. The lions were clearly unperturbed by their actions as they carried away the lifeless cow. There was nothing much they could do but stay put and count losses the following morning.
Hussein’s ordeal is common in most of the villages within the hirola range. Carnivores that hunt in packs like African wild dogs, and the lone hunters like leopards are becoming a great danger to the local inhabitants. The nights are insecure and it’s very dangerous to go out and protect livestock once the hunters strike in darkness.
Some examples of human carnivore conflict include human and livestock deaths, crop destruction anad disease transmission. HCP recently commissioned a survey where 26% of the local people considered the African Lion (Panther leo) to be the most problematic animal in the area followed closely by the spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) with 25% (Figure below). The African Buffalo (Syncerus caffer), the yellow baboon (Papio cynocephalus) and the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) are also considered problem animals in the area.
Somali pastoralists have different ways of dealing with human wildlife conflict for example 25% of the people said they use fire to scare wildlife from accessing their land closely followed by the use of scare crows at 20% and fencing/Boma at 15 percent (Figure below). Retaliatory attacks is also another way some of the local pastoralists used.
One of main goals of HCP is to establish and sustain a conservation programme that will make a lasting contribution to the future of hirola antelope and also the livelihoods of the local communities living within hirola’s geographical range. The integration of conservation with local livelihoods is crucial to species recovery, we therefore strive to protect hirola, its habitat while also enabling a good relationship between wildlife in the hirola range and the locals.
The currently strained relationship between locals and carnivores clouds conservation efforts within the hirola range. HCP therefore works with the local communities to find ways of minimizing the conflicts through community education and outreach.
“We recently initiated a locally driven conservation programme dubbed Herders for hirola” says Mr Abdullahi Ali. “They comprise of local pastoralists who volunteer their time while herding to serve as wildlife ambassadors, informants and first responders to stress calls such as predator attacks and poaching.” He adds that the group includes all age groups including the community elders who use their leverage to influence the communities to support conservation. These herders benefit from trainings organized by HCP with the intent of improving their living standards while also increasing appreciation for wildlife conservation.
Most individuals herd their livestock everyday for 6-8 hours, meaning they spend more time in wildlife areas than anyone else, yet they are rarely involved in conservation decision-making. The wildlife within the hirola range have enormous potential of becoming tourist attractions. HCP therefore empowers the locals through community education for them to make their own decisions on how to benefit directly through wildlife tourism. Through Herders for Hirola project, HCP hopes to use this platform to expand the scope of our effort, granting herders and their families an opportunity to participate in wildlife conservation.
HCP rangers frequent villages within the hirola range to train the locals on:
- 1) community based hirola conservation.
- 2) communication and anti-poaching issues.
- 3) proper livestock husbandry practices to reduce human wildlife conflicts.
We provide these locals with solar charged low cost cell phones and GPS units in effort to initiate a collaborative approach to both conservation and security threats in the area. This is expected to reduce predator livestock encounters as herders can warn each other on predator presence. These in turn will save predators from retaliatory killings that are common within the hirola range.