My name is Enoch and I study lions on the savannahs of Africa. Being a lion conservationist is not always easy. It often involves working to minimize conflict between humans and lions. However, it is very interesting and very rewarding.
In the area I work, the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, both humans and lions rely on the same land. It provides them both with food and shelter. It is home to both. Sometimes this can lead to conflict, either because they need to use the same resources, for example, water or land, or because the cattle which the humans keep for food are also a tempting meal for the lions. And when threatened, both humans and lions can be dangerous. Both will defend themselves with violence. So my job isn’t easy.
What is my most important skill? Doing without sleep. Each day brings different challenges, but every day is busy. With other rangers, I live much of the time in a camping site next to the park gate. Many days we visit local households affected by lions killing their livestock, to install lion-proof bomas (livestock enclosures). Before first light, we all load up in the Landrover and head off to the field. This morning, we climb up the Ololoolo escarpment, and before we reach the village of Kawai, we spot a wounded giraffe. We stop to check on it and realize that he has been shot by a poisoned arrow. We cannot deal with him alone, so call the Kenya Wildlife Services for help. Sadly, they cannot save him this time.
At Kawai, we hear that a pride of 11 lions went up the escarpment from the National Reserve, killing one cow and injuring several others. Visiting the homes of the cattle owners, we take photographs of the cow’s injuries and strengthen the fences to protect them from further attacks. We will pay compensation to the cattle owners for their losses, with money from our organization and from the government. Our organization must also pay for half the cost of the new fences. Protecting people, their cattle and the lions can be expensive. We then head into the bush to find the lions and drive them back to the Reserve. If they are allowed to stay close to the community’s homes, they may attack more livestock, which may result in them being attacked in turn by the local people.
In the afternoon, more villages to visit, more conflicts to resolve. Eventually, at 9 p.m., we turn for home. Tired as we are, as we drive back, we feel so fulfilled and close to the maker, Mother Nature. We see all the night wildlife – spring hares, porcupines, honey badgers – all busy finding food and enjoying their home.
As tired as African wild dogs, we eventually lie down to sleep at 11.30 p.m. Hopefully, we won’t be called on to respond to attacks by poachers tonight, as we are sometimes! Tomorrow we must begin removing some wire traps we have found which were put in the bush by poachers, to catch wildlife for meat, before any animals are hurt. But for now, while the lions, the hares, and the porcupines wander the bush, it is time for us to sleep!
Illustration: Anmol Shrivastava