I just read an amazing story on the good.is site about a project in Kenya. The Maasai have been nomadic herders in Kenya for generations, relying on cattle, sheep and goats to sustain them through both the rainy and dry seasons. In the good old days, the Maasai warrior diet consisted entirely of cow’s blood and milk. While globalization is changing traditional economic ways in much of Kenya, many Maasai are holding on to their honored lifestyle as pastoralists.

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One traditional group of Maasai society are the Moran, or warrior class. These young men serve to protect communities from other tribes and their livestock from predators. It is considered their duty to kill any lion who harms livestock. The Maasai and these legendary predators have long clashed, as lions can quickly destroy the fortune of a man, in the form of his livestock.

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Today the population of lions in Kenya is drastically declining, with the current number estimated at 2000 individuals. If the livelihood of a herder is destroyed by a lion, who are we to say that the Maasai community shouldn’t take revenge on the predator? Well, an exciting new project is trying to reduce lion-livestock interaction, by tracking radiocollared lions. A group of men called the Lion Guardians keep track of predators and help herders avoid trouble spots. They’re also working to educate communities on the importance of wildlife conservation and to prevent retaliatory killings. Hopefully this means that the local lion population can recover, drawing in valuable tourist dollars, while at the same time protecting Maasai livelihoods.

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Sound familiar? We’ve also been working proactively to prevent predator-livestock conflicts. In 2008, after years of testing and developing non-lethal methods to prevent losses of sheep to predators, we teamed up with Defenders of Wildlife, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG), a few other livestock operators, Wildlife Services and the U.S. Forest Service to start the Wood River Wolf Project. IDFG has put radiocollars on a few wolves and we’ve given our herders radio-telemetry to keep track of the predators. This allows them to stay abreast of where the wolves are, and to implement our proactive strategies when we know the sheep and wolves are in close proximity. We’ve also increased the number of guard dogs protecting our herds and at times shift our staff around so that an additional herder stays with the band with wolves nearby. When wolves are in the area, we’ve trained our herders to set up temporary pens around our sheep to protect them at night. They set up “fladry” around the pens or flapping flags that function to deter the wolves, and the electric touch works as well. You can read more about the project at the Defenders of Wildlife Wolf blog here and here.

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Our lives are so different from these Maasai pastoralists; isn’t it amazing that we can be facing the same problems and trying out very similar solutions from the savannahs of Kenya to the sagebrush steppe of Idaho?

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