“In the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.” Baba Dioum 1968 More than 40 years later, Baba Dioum’s words continue to resonate throughout the conservation world. Borrowing from Baba’s words, it’s safe to say the Maasai communities of Kenya’s South Rift love their land, their lifestyle, and for the most part their wildlife. Pastoralists and wildlife have lived side by side in this landscape for thousands of years, learning to understand and move around each other. These basic tenants maintain the coexistence in the South Rift but are rapidly being eroded as Kenya, and the South Rift communities, scramble for development. Land fragmentation, changing cultural values, unemployment and poverty are just some larger socio-economic challenges threatening pastoralists and wildlife across the landscape.
Returning to Baba’s words, it’s clear to us as the South Rift Association of Landowners (SORALO) why we should strive to help our communities conserve their landscape and wildlife, but why should others care? “Kenya’s South Rift, where is that? What national parks do you help conserve? What are you conserving? Why does it matter?” These are generally the first questions people ask when they are told about the South Rift and SORALO’s work. In sharing and growing our carnivore conservation story in the South Rift, we must start by answering these questions. Located in southern Kenya, the South Rift landscape is home to 240,000 Maasai pastoralists spans 1,100,000 hectares of communally owned rangeland between the Maasai Mara and Amboseli ecosystems.
No formal protected areas exist in the South Rift region requiring wildlife and people to coexist. Wildlife is still able to move freely across the landscape and by doing so, enhance the connectivity between Mara-Serengeti and Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystems. Harbouring key populations of lions (approx. 85-125), (approx. 30-40), and wild dog (approx. 50-55) outside of formally protected areas, the South Rift connects the Mara Serengeti to the greater Amboseli-Tsavo carnivore populations. Thanks to the IUCN SOS Our Species (https://iucnsos.org) and the European Union (https://ec.europa.eu/international-partnerships/), SORALO is now supporting Maasai communities across the South Rift to coexist with lions, cheetah, and wild dogs, thereby safeguarding these populations and maintaining the landscape connectivity between Mara-Serengeti and Amboseli –Tsavo ecosystems.
Doing so requires increasing tolerance to large carnivores within the Southern Rift landscape as a whole by building community capacity to (i) protect large carnivore habitat and prey populations, (ii) monitoring lion, cheetah, and wild dog movement, (iii) responding to and preventing human-carnivore conflict, (iv) developing conservation and land use plans that will facilitate human-carnivore coexistence. Through these efforts we are helping to support a healthy and intact landscape that sustains pastoralists and wildlife in the South Rift. Disclaimer: This publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union through IUCN Save Our Species. Its contents are the sole responsibility of SORALO and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IUCN or European Union.