Working with Samburu Elders for Lion Conservation

Jul 22, 2013 | Categories: Training | 1 Comment

The following was written by Ewaso Lions Field Officer, Jeneria Lekilele

On the 6th and 7th of July, we held the first official training for our new Wazee Watch programme which we are launching in Westgate Community Conservancy, here in northern Kenya. Wazee is the local word elders, which is pronounced “wah-zay”. Wazee hold very influential positions in Samburu culture, so if they promote wildlife conservation within their communities, they will inspire others to do so.

The recent training was about wildlife conservation, human-wildlife conflict and coexistence, land degradation, livestock husbandry techniques and much more. We hoped that by the end of the two days, we would find better solutions to solving conflict and to build capacity within this group of wazee.

Jeneria trains the elders on carnivore track identification.

The wazee reminisced about the past and discussed how in the past lions have always attacked livestock.  It is in our culture and part of our history.  They noted how there isn’t any change now — they are not losing more livestock compared to the past.

One of the wazee, Lekarkaraule, said, “I regret how many wildlife we have lost in this region.  Look at the rhino.” He relayed a story about how all the rhinos are now gone after people from outside would come in and say that they would shoot a giraffe for them to eat if they would show them the whereabouts of a rhino that they could kill.  “Let us not lose the lions, the way we have lost our rhinos”, said one of the elders.  Leletur, another elder, said, “If you see how many lions or wildlife we used to have in this place, you will see we have lost a lot if you look around now.”

Some of the elders, or wazee, during the training.

I gave them a briefing about the lion population and described the threats that lions face nowadays like habitat loss and retaliatory killing. We had a discussion on how people have occupied all of the lion’s space. The wazee really had lions on their minds and thought about the areas lions used to hide and search for prey. “People live in these places now”, they said. “It is hard for wildlife to live in these places and lions now find it difficult to survive. This is why they are causing problems like attacking our livestock.”

The elders told me that the best way we can approach the community and work with them is to do awareness and to also talk to individuals.  “We have seen that the wildlife is ours and have brought benefits to us. They also make our region famous and our culture too,” said one elder.

On the second day, we took the elders into Samburu National Reserve to see wildlife close-up.  We met the wardens and had a great wildlife experience after seeing Nanai, my favourite lioness, try to kill a warthog. We returned to Westgate, the elders agreed that yes indeed, there were few lions nowadays but saw their importance after seeing so many tourists trying to see the lions that day.

The Wazee Watch team.

We ended the day by talking about security issues.  We also discussed about how settlements and non-residents of Westgate were affecting wildlife especially when they settled in areas which were wildlife areas.

The elders were very happy and they promised to share the knowledge to other people within their villages. “We will be ambassadors of wildlife and conserve wildlife – because they are in danger,” they said.

I look forward to working closely with the Wazee Watch group in the future.