Encompassing over 200,000 acres, Eselengei is the northernmost tract of intact wilderness in the Amboseli-Tsavo-Kilimanjaro (Greater Amboseli) ecosystem in southern Kenya. With every year, its importance and the need to conserve it is growing. Over the years, Big Life Foundation’s rangers have played a central role in controlling poaching and making the Greater Amboseli ecosystem a safer place. As a result, animals—especially elephants—are now venturing further from Amboseli National Park and deeper into Eselengei. They are also staying there for longer. This safe zone is not just important for elephants; Eselengei is also a stronghold of the ecosystem’s lion population, as well as home to a wide diversity of other species. However, Eselengei is surrounded by communities that are not always friendly to wildlife. Poachers, targeting bushmeat and sometimes ivory, operate along its northern boundaries, frequently picking off animals in the areas outside of the existing conservancy that lies within Eselengei. In 2018, five elephants were speared to death in a series of horrific events.
In response, Big Life plans to expand its successful wildlife protection and conservation model to Eselengei. This includes adding two permanent ranger outposts, fully equipped and manned by recruits from the Eselengei community, and supported by a Land Cruiser vehicle that will allow for rapid response to emergencies. These rangers will not just work to protect wildlife on Eselengei (often by providing support to the people who share this space), but will also respond when animals cross the invisible barrier into neighboring ‘hostile’ territory.
Also, Big Life will implement its Predator Compensation Fund (PCF) to Eselengei. The fund provides livestock owners with financial compensation for all verified losses of their animals to the ecosystem’s wild predators. This program has been immensely successful over the years, helping to increase the lion population throughout the ecosystem.
The Cheetah Conservation Fund’s (CCF) One Health Initiative will address multivariable needs of the communities that we work with. This new initiative will work to address the interconnected health of the people, their livestock and the free-living wildlife. Our initial focus for this initiative is rabies awareness and rabies prevention activities. According to the World Health Organization there are roughly 60,000 reported deaths from rabies, with the majority of the cases (95%) occurring in Asia and Africa, and 99% of transmission comes from domestic dogs. To face this very real threat the first activity under our One Health Initiative is a rabies awareness and vaccination campaign, focusing on the Hereroland communities in Eastern Namibia. Our awareness campaign began on World Rabies Day (September 28) in 2018, with the production and distribution of education materials. The second phase is the acquisition of a vehicle that will be outfitted and serve as the platform for a mobile vaccination clinic that will eventually provide spay/neuter procedures for companion animals. CCF’s Community Development and Veterinary teams will operate the mobile clinic to provide rabies prevention awareness education and free/low costs vaccinations for dogs and cats within the community, setting up a monthly calendar to provide education and services to maximize the impact for community members. By providing this service to these isolated communities CCF will reduce the risk of rabies transmission, save lives and protect both domestic and wildlife species. The goal of this project is to empower the communities to prevent rabies transmission and in the long term eradicate rabies in the region.
The Kwando Carnivore Project is based in the Zambezi Region of Namibia, which is central to the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA), a mosaic landscape falling across the international borders of five countries. The KCP is a locally based project and focuses on applied research and conservation of large carnivores as well as human-carnivore conflict mitigation.. Our field work involves conducting regular surveys in protected areas in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment and in adjacent conservancies with Community Game Guards to ensure that large carnivore populations are stable and/or to identify any conservation concerns. In addition we monitor specific species such as lions and in future wild dogs and spotted hyaenas to understand how they move through the human-dominated landscape and to identify conservation challenges. Our mitigation work involves building lion-proof kraals to protect cattle from lions and other large carnivores in areas that lie between national parks. The prevention of retaliatory killing of carnivores by communities for predating on livestock facilitates connectiviy for carnivores to disperse through human dominated landscapes and link with resident carnivore populations in protected areas within the immediate KAZA landscape. As the KCP is a small, locally based project, we achieve larger goals such as improving livelihoods of communities, habitat and wildlife corridor protection by linking with conservation partners such as Panthera, WWF in Namibia, WWF Germany, Ministry of Environment, Namibia Nature Foundation, Namibia Chamber of Environment and IRDNC.
The Large Mammals Project in the Cayambe Coca National Park, is studying the largest mammals of the Andes of South America, Andean Bear, Mountain Tapir and Puma. Since 2010 we have deployed Iridium / GPS collars to 5 Andean bears and 10 mountain tapirs. Some scientific articles on the ecology and biology of these species have already been published. Three years ago we received the request for help from the Oyacachi indigenous community, which since 2000 is suffering the loss of its cattle due to the predation by bears and pumas.
To reduce the conflict, we have created a small compensation program through a mutual agreement signed with the Oyacachi community, they are committed to respect and protect the life of the problem carnivores, especially bears, in exchange for our project returning calves to change of predated cows, training of the community´s young people on environmental issues, review and veterinary medication of their livestock, these points we have more or less covered with donations coming from Ecuadorian people.
Our project now seeks through the research is to capture one or two predatory bears to deploy on them satellite collars and study their movements, so we can create a predict model about bear predation, never before conceived in the region, which will be delivered to the community and to the environmental authorities, so we think we will reduce the human-bear conflict and achieve a peaceful coexistence.
Thousands of leopards are killed each year in southern Africa to fuel local demand for their skins. To address this threat without impinging on cultural values, Panthera created a high-quality, affordable faux leopard skin for use in ceremonies. These faux skins were first tested in South Africa among members of the Shembe Church; 15,000 faux skins have been donated between 2014 and 2017 with encouraging results. Initially, 90% of leopard skins seen at Shembe gatherings were authentic, more than 50% are now fakes. Our aim is now to expand the project to other groups using leopard skins, beginning with the Lozi in southwest Zambia. The Lozi, like the Shembe, wear leopard skins as symbols of prestige. However, what was once the privilege of a select few is now commonplace among the Lozi; hundreds of leopard skins can be seen at a single gathering. Each faux skin donated represents a leopard saved, while the production of faux skins provides employment and business opportunities to an impoverished people. To assess the effectiveness of the project, inform broader conservation policies and demonstrate the negative impact trophee hunting, a regional surveillance network will be established to track leopard population trends across the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area.
ince 2008, there has been a massively increased demand for ivory from China and the Far East. As many as 35,000 elephants a year are being slaughtered, 10% of Africa’s elephant population each year alone.
The Amboseli ecosystem harbours one of the two greatest population of elephants left in East Africa. Until BLF came on the scene in late 2010, Amboseli was experiencing a dramatic surge in poaching. For an ecosystem of such importance and uniqueness, Amboseli was strangely forgotten in terms of wildlife protection, suffering badly from insufficient funding from both government and (the very few) non-profit organizations in the region.
With this in mind, and in order to attempt to stop the destruction of this extraordinary ecosystem and its animals, Big Life Foundation was established in October 2010.
The Amboseli ecosystem became Big Life’s pilot large-scale initiative project, operating on the ground, collaborating closely with local communities, partner NGO’s, national parks and government agencies, particularly the Kenya Wildlife Service.
Multiple fully-equipped teams of rangers have been placed in newly-built outposts in the most critical, vulnerable areas throughout the region. So far, within just two years of inception, BLF has 250 trained rangers, 46 ranger units, 5 mobile units, 13 vehicles, one airplane, 5 tracker dogs, latest technology equipment, and a large informer network.
Since 2010, BLF has made 2438 arrests, seized 3578 poaching tools and poaching rates of elephants were constantly reduced: 7 cases in 2013, 2 in 2014, 2 in 2015 and 1 in 2016.
This new level of co-ordinated protection for the ecosystem has brought about a major, dramatic reduction in poaching of ALL animals in the region. The fact that every ranger comes from the local communities only strengthens that link between Big Life and the communities, with each helping the other in vital ways.
Mayoyo Kutata is lucky to be alive. Last week, the 30-year-old mother of four was herding the family goats in the late afternoon and stopped to chop some wood for the evening cooking. Caught up in the routine of these daily tasks, she didn’t notice the giant shadows.
Too late, she realized that she was surrounded by elephants, and panicked and ran. One of the elephants chased her, knocking her into a bush with a swing of its trunk. The elephant backed off, but turned and charged again. This time she screamed and the sound startled the rest of the herd. Thankfully, they all ran and the charging elephant diverted its course to run with them.
Others have not been so lucky. Big Life has recorded 11 people killed by elephants in the greater Amboseli ecosystem since the start of 2016, including two people killed in 2017 already. This is a tragedy, made even more emotional when the victims are children.
In many cases the community has taken matters into their own hands. Big Life recorded just one elephant poached in our area of operation in 2016, but unfortunately this phenomenal success was tempered by the tragic retaliatory deaths of 19 elephants that happened as a result of these conflicts (many of these were euthanized). This is the biggest future challenge for the elephants of Amboseli – not elephants killed by poachers, but elephants killed by humans in conflict with them.
Violent conflict does nothing for human-elephant relations, already strained due to the economic losses suffered by local farmers losing their crops to elephants. Big Life is doing what we can to help alleviate the pain caused by the loss of human life, working to find employment opportunities for members of the families of the deceased, as well as looking for educational scholarships for the sons and daughters of those who died. Big Life is also working in partnership with all local stakeholders, including government, community, and NGO’s, to put in place rapid response measures, so as to minimize the chances of unnecessary injury or death to both humans and elephants.
For centuries the Maasai have practiced a traditional rite of passage to manhood: hunting and killing lions. Today, there are too many people and too few lions. Realising that the traditional Maasai way of reaching manhood will not have a future, the cultural “fathers” asked Big Life Foundation (BLF) to eliminate lion hunting from the Maasai culture.
In response, BLF partnered with the Maasai to conceive and raise funds for this first-ever Maasai Olympics, part of the larger initiative to help to shift the attitudes of the Maasai toward a commitment to wildlife and habitat conservation as a preferred way of life in the 21st century.
This larger initiative consisting of two parts, conservation education and sports.
In order to reach a large audience, a film was produced exclusively for this project and used to teach the young generation that lion killing is no longer culturally acceptable and must stop now, as must the killing of elephants and all wildlife species. Failure to follow the “path of conservation” and reap its economic benefits will result in an unsustainable future of the Maasai people.
Competition in sports starts at local level. The warriors receive basic sports training in six events and compete for selection to one of four teams across the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem.
At regional level, each team will compete in organized competitions against the other three villages.
At ecosystem-wide level, the highly important and most wanted Olympic Day is waiting. This highlight takes place before national and international media, celebrities, government officials, friends, family, and tourists. The four villages will compete for event medals, prizes, and for the overall winners a trophy and prized bull. Thousands of people attend.
Girls being the motivators behind warriors wanting to hunt lion, are also potential conservation advocates and are included in the education program and in two competitions at Olympics Day.
In 2003, in response to an imminent threat of local lion extinction, Maasailand Preservation Trust (MPT) which in 2010 became the Big Life Foundation (BLF), in close collaboration with the local community, conceived a first-of-its-kind predator compensation programme. The intention was to better balance the costs and benefits of living with wildlife and thereby replace conflict and retaliation with tolerance and cohabitation.
This novel conservation strategy remains one of the most far-reaching and effective projects, the first of its kind, implemented in the Amboseli-Kilimanjaro Maasailand ecosystem.
One of many key aspects of PCF is that it acts as an umbrella of protection – not only preventing lion extinction but also providing coverage for other persecuted species, such as hyena, cheetah, leopard, wild dog and jackal.
The raising of livestock in Maasailand is a vital activity for the community’s subsistence. Consequently, predators are under constant threat from livestock owners who view them as a danger to their livestock and kill them in retribution for livestock losses. Retaliatory killing is the major threat to Africa’s lion population. Recent estimates show that 20 years ago 200,000 lions lived in Africa, today there are less than 25,000, with no more than 2,000 residing in Kenya.
The success achieved by PCF in its past years is arguably unequalled in African conservation:
Since inception, lion killing has virtually stopped on Mbirikani Group Ranch, a Maasai community of 10,000 individuals. Only 6 lions were killed by livestock owners during the first nine years of the project. During that same period, more than 200 lions were killed on the neighbouring group ranches where the PCF programme did not (yet) exist. The same community that now protects lions killed 22 in just 18 months prior to introduction of PCF.
A key factor to PCF’s success is the requirement that the entire community must support the objectives of the programme or compensation will cease for everyone.
Poaching presents a huge threat to not only painted dogs but also all wildlife in the so-called “buffer zone” surrounding Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. Large predators such as lion and hyena are also particularly vulnerable as they often scavenge from snare lines and indeed can be targeted deliberately. As the socioeconomic situation in Zimbabwe continues to deteriorate, pressures that drive poaching are escalating. Unemployment levels have reached new heights and with the majority of people in the region depending on erratic rainfalls, simply to survive at a subsistence level, they turn to illegal hunting practises.
The situation is deteriorating rapidly as highlighted by the recent outbreak of poaching with cyanide. Indeed a pack of nine painted dogs were recently found dead at a waterhole poisoned with cyanide. This new threat to carnivores is likely to increase as a result of the use of cyanide because of the scavenging done the carcasses left behind by the cyanide poachers.
The lack of recourse available to Zimbabwe’s Parks & Wildlife Management Authority exacerbates this dire situation. Poachers have enjoyed virtually unrestricted access to areas such as Dete, Ngamo and Tchotcholo, from which they have been able to move freely deep inside Hwange National Park. Poaching snares kill large animals indiscriminately, and the practice is threatening to decimate the small surviving populations of threatened species, many of which are already facing pressures of extinction through habitat destruction and climate change. The recent increase in the use of poisons such as cyanide further complicates the issue and there is dire need for a reliable informant network to be established.