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february - march 2019 travel news kenya I 43
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“They reduce dependence on forest-based resources and eliminate plastic
wastes by recycling them.” Another key advantage is that they can be packed
up and moved more easily than cedar bomas, making them especially suitable
to the Maasai’s semi-nomadic lifestyle. They even hold up better during severe
weather and are resistant to termite damage, ensuring that they remain useful to
Maasai communities for many years. It might seem obvious in retrospect, but this
design wasn’t arrived at lightly.
This recycled plastic model represents the culmination of many years of work,
and the organization has been very pleased with benefits offered by its version
of the modern boma. But even with this clever design, a boma is only effective if
it keeps cattle in and keeps predators out. So the Mara Predator Conservation
Programme conducted a survey of human-wildlife conflict hotspots in the Mara
ecosystem to determine how their plastic bomas were faring in the field. “We
piloted plastic poles bomas in various places to test their efficacy,” Dr. Ng’weno
reports, “leading to a 100% success in preventing depredation over the last year
in the areas of intervention.” This encouraging result bodes well for both people
and lions across Kenya—but only if these types of reinforcements can be applied
widely throughout the country.
To learn more about how other groups are designing reinforced bomas elsewhere
in Kenya, I spoke with Dr. Laurence Frank, the director of Living with Lions.
This is a group comprised of both conservation scientists and Maasai morans,
working together to safeguard predators in areas that aren’t formally recognized
as National Parks or National Reserves. While the organization’s bomas were
developed independently from those used by the Mara Predator Conservation
Programme, the group faced many of the same challenges while coming up with
a boma design that’s both practical and affordable.
“About 20 years ago, Living with Lions developed cheap and simple hyena-proof
bomas for pastoralists in Laikipia,” Dr. Frank says. These prototypes combined
the thornbush perimeter of a traditional boma with a gate constructed from
wood, iron sheets, or flattened oil drums. The whole package was wrapped with
inexpensive chain link fence to keep material costs low. “It costs about the price
of a single goat to construct these, and they essentially stop predation by hyenas
and leopards,” Dr. Frank says. But something stronger was needed to keep out
To solve this problem, commercial ranches in the country have come up with
highly effective boma designs of their own, using materials like water pipes
and moveable, interlocking six-foot panels. “Between these bomas and other
improvements in livestock management,” Dr. Frank observes, “shooting of
problem lions on Laikipia commercial ranches has fallen by 85% since 2000.”
This is fantastic news for lions, but what about Maasai communities? These
commercial boma models are prohibitively expensive for most pastoralists: they
come at a price of more than US$1,000 per boma, and they require the use of a
tractor or truck to put together and move.
That’s why Steven Ekwanga, a project biologist for Living with Lions, built
hundreds of more pragmatic demonstration bomas throughout communities in
Laikipia, Samburu, and regions bordering the Maasai Mara. He met with Maasai
leaders and delivered presentations about livestock protection and predator
conservation, inspiring pastoralists to select which bomas in their villages would
best benefit from the fortifications offered by the Living with Lions improvements.
Some Maasai communities were even able to take these designs and construct
their own fortified bomas. “These simple bomas resolved what is by far the biggest
wildlife conflict problems faced by pastoralists,” Dr. Frank explains. But the group
started running into problems of its own.
In particular, acquiring funding to construct the bomas proved to be difficult. Initial
plans to have Maasai communities pay 50% of the cost, fell through when many
were unable to pay. Even those communities who were willing and able to fund
their portion of the program experienced problems acquiring materials like mesh
and oil drums, especially in remote areas of Kenya.
The old & the new combined - plastic poles, wire and thorns
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