On 27th November 2017,Ecolife Kenya Joined SEJELAI embarked on a game drive whose main aim was to not only take in the wildlife view, but also see the state of the park in terms of litter. It was a two hour game drive and we were accompanied by two game rangers and a friend of the organization. One of SEJELAI’s goals apart of community empowerment is wildlife and by extension environmental conservation through clean ups campaigns within the Mara reserve and surrounding communities.
Maasai Mara game reserve is one of Kenya’s greatest wildlife reserves, home to the big five; lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino. It is also listed as the eighth wonder of the world, owing to the great wildebeest migration. It is a true piece of heaven, with a surety of seeing the being five and other wildlife, not forgetting the great landscape view.
However, the park is facing challenges, the two major ones being; littering and human- wildlife conflict.
To be specific, plastics are the main litter found in the Mara. Throughout our game drive, we collected lots of plastic bottles and plastic paper bags. This poses a great danger to the wildlife especially herbivores as they face a risk of death from ingesting the plastic. The aesthetic value and beauty of the park has also been downgraded.
The plastic litter comes from the tourists that visit the park both local and international; as they enjoy the game drives and scenery, they sip a drink and when done, casually toss the used bottle out of the vehicle window.
A small percentage is from the surrounding community as they navigate and herd near or around the park.
This is in the form of grazing and herding inside the park. The local communities own large herds of cattle and this translates to a need for large grazing land and water source. The park and its vastness prove to be an enticing option for some community members. As a result, they invade the park in search of pasture and water. This is turn has disturbed the fragile ecosystem; currently lions prey on cows and sheep as they find them to be an easier target in terms of energy spent to hunt and capture them. According to the rangers, in the last week of November, 5 cows were killed by lions.
The killing only worsens the situation as the animals are further perceived by the locals as enemies and are killed. Within our two hour drive, we spotted two herds of cattle inside the park and according to the rangers, the number increases at night as they herd illegally inside the park, risking even their own lives.
The park rangers have however put in place initiatives to mitigate the above issues. They work in dedicated teams to fight these two major issues.
The park rangers have created cattle prison, in which cattle found inside the park are driven to and the owner has to pay a fine to get them back. This acts as a discouraging factor. These are make shifts structures to temporarily lock cattle in. The rangers have to walk incredibly long distances from the site the cattle are found to the cattle prison.
For effective communication, they work in teams and use mobile phones to contact their colleagues in case an illegal herder is spotted. They work in shifts patrolling the park.
The rangers work with local CBOs such as this one, community groups and the different hotels and lodges located in the parks to keep the park clean. Dustbins are in place at convenient locations and tourists and visitors are encouraged not to litter.
Collaboration is also on community sensitization and education on the numerous benefits of wildlife management and ecosystem management as a whole.
Another positive that has worked well is the employment of the local community members. This has given them a sense of ownership and responsibility of the park and it trickles down to their family members.
I strongly recommend a ban of plastic bottles within the park so as to deal with the problem of careless disposal. Reusable bottles instead, should be the only ones allowed and encouraged inside the park.
Alternatively, the tour guides should be sensitized and encouraged to always tell and instruct their passengers to refrain from littering. This measure can also be made stronger by introduction of dustbins in each vehicle, to eliminate any excuse to litter. Each driver and tour guide should be given the responsibility and mandate to ensure there is zero littering especially during game drives.