Editorial: Tame wildlife, Maasai lives matter

The debate sparked by the unfortunate events in Masimba has shed more heat than light, with the government rushing in its characteristic style to calm the storm kicked off by its sloppy handling of an angry protest by residents.

Yet, the men, women and children who marched through Masimba were merely voicing their discontent over the rampant killings and destruction of property caused by wildlife. There has been little to no action by the Kenya Wildlife Service, the body mandated to manage the country’s wildlife. The lethargic inaction by wildlife authorities over the years has led to untold suffering by residents as their livestock are maimed and killed by wild animals, their crops destroyed, and their own lives endangered.

Police sent to quell the protests fired live bullets into the crowd, claiming five lives. Even though the government was quick at damage control and sent Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i to reassure the residents of the government’s resolve to compensate victims and deal with their plight, it remains to be seen whether anything substantial will come out of the pledges by authorities.

In particular, the government has been reluctant to tackle the root of the problem, which has to do with gross interference with wildlife migration corridors by allowing human settlement in areas set aside for wildlife.

According to Bishop David Matipei of Kitengela, the Maasai community agreed to set aside land for use as pasture during dry seasons and that would also serve as a migratory corridor for wildlife to move between the Tsavo and Amboseli National Parks. With time, however, the land was encroached by a different community who started building infrastructure, leading not only to conflicts with the Maasai but also obstructing wildlife attempting to migrate between two national parks.

Moreover, wildlife attempting to pass through the corridor are shot at using arrows, making the elephants go wild as they turn around and head in the direction of Masimba and other areas of Kajiado County.

The main solution, then, is staring the government in the face: The reopening of wildlife migratory corridors and expulsion of all those who have encroached upon those corridors. The offending infrastructure will have to be brought down; despite the fact that this will be painful to those who have invested in the area, the country needs to stop all the land-grabbing madness and make a return to law and order before we all become victims.

It is noteworthy that these are matters for which there exist long-running court battles. It is common knowledge that such disputes may proceed endlessly for decades through the corridors of justice, while more infrastructure continues to be built on the disputed land even as the human-wildlife conflict moves from bad to worse. The government must therefore seek a viable solution to the conflict, lest the victims in places like Masimba be tempted to take the law into their hands and exterminate the offending wildlife, as some have threatened to do.

ÐPeople’s livelihoods are not a joking matter. Enough lives of pastoralists have been lost throughout Kajiado County, trampled by elephants and mauled by other wild animals. Foot-dragging by officialdom can no longer be tolerated. The message must now go out loud and clear: Maasai lives matter!

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