This could have been prevented
2015 started (once again) with bad news for lions. Pastoralists living outside Tarangire National Park in Tanzania in a settlement called Olasiti killed at least six lions. Two lions were apparently shot with guns (it emerges maybe by government rangers) and the rest speared to death. Two people are said to be seriously wounded after attacking the lions.
Reports are still coming in, but it appears the lions allegedly entered a livestock enclosure and attacked some donkeys (this is still not confirmed). Once something like 11 lions were spotted outside the village about 300 people stated chasing them. Also needing confirmation is that some of the lions were killed inside the national park by the pastoralists.
The incident has been widely reported on social media as well as in newspapers and on Tanzanian TV. Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism Lazaro Nyalandu (and now a Presidential hopeful in the upcoming Tanzania elections) has told the media that the incident will be fully investigated and the perpetrators punished.
Meanwhile there is much controversy surrounding the issue:
- The head of the Tanzania Professional Hunting Association has blamed the Maasai for killing lions in Tanzania at a great rate. Conflict between livestock and lions is nothing new in the Tarangire area – researcher Bernard Kissui estimates that 226 lions have been killed in the area between 2004-2013, or an average of about 23 lions per year. A bit of hypocrisy by the hunters as 1,653 adult and subadult male lions were shot as trophies in Tanzania during 2003-2012. There must be some puzzlement among rural communities as foreign hunters are entitled to kill lions for entertainment, but lions cannot be killed to protect livelihoods and indeed human lives.
- There has been widespread condemnation of the Maasai for killing the lions. But what is not discussed could be the underlying problem. The Maasai living in the area receive little compensation for wildlife damage but are expected to tolerate wildlife. The Maasai get no compensation for wildlife grazing on their lands or spreading diseases to their cattle. The Maasai are not involved in revenue sharing from the Tarangire National Park income. The Maasai have suffered livestock losses due to predators over very many years. The Maasai have not been consulted for their opinion about resolution of the conflict until this internationally broadcast incident occurred – and now the government is finally calling meetings.
- The government authorities seem to have not been paying much attention to this issue for many years as mentioned above. It was only after lion killings in Kenya outside Nairobi National Park and Amboseli National Park similarly broadcast by the world media that the authorities started to pay attention. The authorities in Tanzania seem to have little effective forward planning in place to regulate land use around nationally protected areas except to designate them as “wildlife management areas” (read hunting areas) that do little to conserve wildlife and even less to financially benefit the communities. Indeed, a recent IUCN report identified Tanzanian hunting areas as performing worst among all such regions in Africa with an income of about $4 per square kilometre to the communities. As a comparison, income from a square kilometre planted with crops can well exceed $300 per annum. Not that these areas should be planted with crops, but the communities are likely well aware that their land is producing the worst possible income among alternatives under current payment schemes.
- NGO “Lion Guardians” states “It appears from our initial investigations that there may have been political motivations behind these killings (especially as the hunt wore on and continued on January 2nd) and that furthermore the lion parts (claws, teeth, body fat) have been collected as trophies to be sold, not as any ritual cultural practice. We can also confirm that the great majority of those involved in hunting the lions were from the Waarusha tribe and were not Maasai.”
- At least one of the lions killed was wearing a radiocollar (see photo above). Questions have been asked about the level of community outreach by the researchers, as they must have known that these lions were threatening and killing livestock, and might have done so for very many years. It would also appear that some effort has been made to protect cattle bomas with improved fences, and that various efforts are underway to protect livestock in the Tarangire area by organizations like the African People and Wildlife Fund.
- Many of these issues were covered in a Master’s Thesis completed by Kwaslema Hariohay at the University of Trondheim in 2013. The thesis mentions that 60% of the Kwakuchinga Wildlife Corridor (in which Olasiti is located) is under cultivation and that there has been considerable lack of land use planning in the area. Hariohay also mentions considerable wildlife/livestock conflict in the area surveyed, resulting in losses of over $20,600 per annum, or an average per year of $106 per household. During the study year, predators killed 192 goats, 158 sheep, 50 cattle and 17 donkeys. Most predation was by hyenas (41%) followed by lions (27%) and leopards (8%). See report here .
Overall, it would seem that days after the event much still remains to be clarified. Conflicting reports by different people are not adding to any clear picture of what happened, and many media reports are also contradictory. Meanwhile, what is clear is that a number of issues need to be addressed – like fair compensation for community land used in “wildlife management areas”, fair and quick compensation for livestock lost, the lack of wildlife management in community areas, the need to revisit government programmes for land-use planning, the need to establish predator and other wildlife deterrent programmes, the requirement of better community revenue sharing with national parks – before any resolution will be found.
Tanzania has a big task ahead, and authorities and NGOs should now urgently begin to address all these issues. We will propose our LionAid livestock predator deterrent/compensation scheme to the Tanzanian government in the next few days as a means of addressing at least some of these concerns.
Picture credit: Lion Guardians
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