Meeting the Enemy

By Wandering Maasai | 25 June 2016

Poachers. As a word, it brings to mind organised crime networks with automatic weapons butchering elephants and rhinos for their tusks and horn. But poaching actually comes in many different shades. Is the man who, without a licence, sneakily catches a couple of carp from a private fishing lake in Europe a poacher? Or what about the hunter who illegally traps a rabbit for the pot?

What exactly is a Poacher nowadays?

In the past, I’ve camped in the forests of Central Africa with a group of BaAka (pygmies to you and me) during one of their frequent hunting expeditions. They were after the small duiker forest antelopes and the hunting was taking place on the edge, and perhaps just inside, a protected forest. Was it poaching? Technically, but then again they’ve been doing the same for hundreds of years with no ill effect on the forest eco-system. Actually, the large international conservation NGO who were acting as guardians of the forest at the time helped organise my stay saying that it was important that the BaAka benefit in some manner from what was, essentially, their land.

Then there’s the villager living on the financial edge in East Africa who one day finds a stranger offering him several hundred dollars to shoot that elephant that raids his crops every other night. With the money offered that man can put his children through school and food on his table for more than a year. So, is he the poacher or is it the middle man who makes it all possible, but never actually shoots an elephant himself? Already you can see how the term poacher is starting to look a little less clear cut.

Talking to Those Who Know

As I travelled around northern Tanzania, learning what it took to be an Asilia wildlife guide at Tarangire National Park and following enormous herds of wildebeest through the southern Serengeti, I asked many different people to tell me who qualified as a poacher and, perhaps not surprisingly, I had as many different responses as there are shades of grey. But again and again, though one word kept cropping up. The Kuria. You must go and talk to the Kuria people.

The Kuria (Koria, Wakuria, Abakuria) peoples number around a million and are spread almost equally between Kenya and Tanzania where their homeland is centred on the area between Lake Victoria in the west and the Serengeti and Maasai Mara in the east. Once almost entirely a pastoralist people they are now, as often as not, settled subsistence farmers tending to small shambas (farmsteads) on the lush green hills to the west of the Serengeti. But although they know it’s good to eat greens there’s nothing they really like more than getting their teeth into a good hunk of meat. But, when I say meat, I don’t mean cows and goats. I mean wildebeest. The Kuria people have long been renowned hunters of what is today commonly termed as ‘bush meat’ and it’s a tradition that continues to this very day with an estimated 70,000-130,000 wildebeest being poached every year from in and around the Serengeti eco-system.

 

John Mwekwiba is from Mbalimbali village, which, as I discovered when I drove there to meet him, is more a spreading collection of small farms centred on a school and a couple of garishly painted dukas (shops) selling sodas, mobile phone scratch cards, lengths of rope and farming implements. Grabbing a lime soda each we sat down together to talk hunting. John was, like almost everyone in Mbalimbali, Kuria and like most of the men over the age of about thirty-five he had once been a hunter.

Poaching – Then vs. Now

He started hunting in the 1970’s and he told me how his favourite hunting area was down by the Mara River where animals would come to drink. He and his accomplices would dig a long pit, about a hundred metres in length and a couple of metres deep, close to the river. The pit would be lined with sharpened sticks pointing upwards like crocodile teeth and then the whole pit was covered over with twigs and grass so the animals couldn’t see it. When a suitable herd of animals was spotted approaching the river, John and the rest of his team would get behind them and hustle and chase the animals down toward the river. As soon the wildebeest stood on the trap the twigs and grasses would give way and the animals would plunge down and spear themselves on the sharpened sticks. This method of hunting was, I was assured, highly effective and they could take dozens of wildebeest and antelopes at a time. However, setting such a trap took time and it made the hunters obvious to rangers.

Eventually, as anti-poaching patrols and techniques increased and improved, the Kuria had to largely abandon the trap-door method of wildebeest hunting and move instead to the more subtle technique of setting snares. This was, and still is, done by removing the very thin but strong, string-like cord from old car and truck tyres and tying it loosely between a couple of trees at about wildebeest throat height. Then, using the same herding technique as was employed with the pits, the men funnelled groups of wildebeest towards the trees. As the wildebeest ran between the gaps in the trees they’d get the cord twisted around their necks and legs and become trapped after which it was easy to kill them. The snares though were not as effective as the pits and John couldn’t catch as many animals in one go. “With the pits the most animals we ever caught at one time was fifty animals of all different kinds, but with the snares maybe it was only ten animals”, said John in a matter of fact kind of way. I asked him what happened once they’d caught the wildebeest, “Some of the meat was sold to pay for other food, school fees and clothing, but mostly we just ate it with our families and if we did sell any it was only sold within the village for our own community. The skin we would just leave for the hyenas”.

Hunting in the 1970’s, when there were few rangers in the Serengeti, was easier than now, but it was still no walk in the proverbial park. Air patrols by rangers were always a danger but most of the time, if the hunters lay down in the undergrowth, they wouldn’t be seen by the rangers. The risk was if they were wearing a watch or had a spear that could reflect the sunlight, so when they heard a plane or helicopter coming they had to cover any metallic objects up.

Dangers in the Bush

Even so, they were sometimes found and though John always eluded capture, many of his friends were caught and served time (a few months or a year or two) in jail. Generally, after they’d been in jail, they didn’t return to hunting again. Perhaps a bigger danger than rangers came from the Serengeti wildlife itself and John told me how he’d heard of many people being killed by buffalo when they’d stumble unexpectedly into them in patches of woodland. John recalled how one night he nearly became dinner to a lion. He was walking with a wildebeest carcas slung over his shoulder. It was heavy and restricted his vision and a lion stalked up behind him and tried to grab the wildebeest off him, but his friends saw it at the last second and chased it away. Another time, he said, an elephant went on the rampage in their camp; stamping and trampling over everything and that he was lucky to get away from it without being crushed.

Almost ever since the Kuria arrived in this part of Tanzania they’ve hunted wildebeest and other animals for their own consumption, and for years it wasn’t really an issue, but then, one morning, they woke up to find rules had changed and anyone who went hunting would now be classed as a poacher. What had John thought of this? Did he consider himself a poacher or a hunter? “I’m not a poacher. I’m a hunter, but today there are people with guns killing the wildebeest and they are poachers. We never hunted elephants either. No Kuria would do that because we don’t eat elephant meat”.

From afar it sounded like John had lived an exciting, perhaps almost glamorous, lifestyle and now that he made a living working at a safari camp walking guests safely back to their tent at night, I wondered if he missed his hunting days. John smiled at the question, “No, I have no desire to go back to that time. I don’t want my children to do this either. I want them to get an education and do something different”.

John’s answer about his not being interested in hunting anymore was the typical response of most of the people I questioned in Mbalimbali and, even though tens of thousands of wildebeest are still taken each year, the overall levels and support for hunting seems to be dropping. For a start, the government are far tougher on it now, but in the area where John lives anyway, perhaps a bigger reason for this decline in interest is tourism.

Safari companies like Asilia actively look to employ men like John. The company values their bush knowledge and the ex-hunters value a steady wage and the chance this gives them to plan, save and invest in their children’s health and education. “Before, in the north-west of the Serengeti, there was nothing”, John continued, “And with not many camps we had nothing else to do but hunt. But now it’s different. Places, where we used to hide and wait for the wildebeest now, have camps built on them because they have the best view points. Most people here are happy that things have changed because now we make more money from working in the camps than hunting”.

As our conversation came to an end, I glanced over the mud road to the small butchery shop where nothing more sinister than a goat or two was hanging on the hooks. Things are changing indeed for the Kuria.

The post Meeting the Enemy appeared first on Asilia Africa.


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  • What is included in an Asilia safari?

    A safari with Asilia Africa offers visitors the opportunity to visit a number of camps in prime locations in the East African bush, discover insights into the environment with a trained local guide, as well as an unparalleled viewing of African wildlife (including the Great Wildebeest Migration and the famed Big 5) while staying in our award-winning camps. In addition, daily game drives are included, as well as your selection of the many optional activities on offer dependent on the camp you’re staying at. In the spirit of warm African hospitality, all your meals and drinks are provided so you’re free to relax and enjoy your safari.

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    Asilia Africa’s camps are ideally situated for access to the incredible wildlife of East Africa, as well as the beauty and serenity of the landscapes.

    Our safari holidays offer unparalleled and unforgettable wildlife experiences, from the Great Migration, Big 5, birding and more.

    In addition to daily game drives, East Africa boasts many activities, including climbing Kilimanjaro, hot-air ballooning, walking safaris, meaningful cultural experiences and relaxing on the beach amongst others.

    We've compiled a month-by-month guide to safaris in East Africa, read more here.

  • What is a typical day on safari like?

    Life on safari has a rhythm of its own, largely dictated by the animals’ movements. Generally, the most rewarding times for game viewing is in the cooler early mornings and also late in the afternoons when the animals are at their most active.

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  • Can I bring my children along on safari?

    Without question! Family safaris in Africa are a worthwhile and meaningful experience, as can be seen in this video. Aside from spending quality time with your nearest and dearest under a wide blue African sky, a safari in Africa offers invaluable experiences including unique cultural experiences, memorable wildlife sightings, and the opportunity to learn more about nature. You can read more about our best family camps here.

    If you're thinking of bringing your teenager on safari, you may have a few questions so here's a quick guide to taking teens on safari.

    It is worth noting that some of our camps can unfortunately not accommodate children under the age of 5. Feel free to get in touch with us to confirm which of our camps are suitable for smaller children.

  • How does the weather influence a safari?

    While a safari holiday can be had at any time of year, it is worth noting that seasonality will impact the type of experience you’re likely to have as well as the cost of your safari.

    During the dry season, the wildlife tends to congregate around the few remaining watering holes. Vegetation at this time is sparse making the animals easier to spot.
    The wet season is abundant both in vegetation and wildlife, as this is the birthing season – which means predators come out in force to prey on vulnerable newborns.

    Whichever season you choose to travel in, rest assured that our camps are well equipped for the East African climate and to ensure your comfort at all times. We've compiled a month-by-month guide to safaris in East Africa, read more here.

  • What happens on a game drive?

    Game drives are an integral part of any safari. You’ll head out into the wilderness with your trained and knowledgeable guide in one of our specialised vehicles. We have both closed and open-sided vehicles and try to have no more than six guests in one vehicle, so everyone is guaranteed a window seat for the best view of the action. Our vehicles also have the added benefit of charging stations to ensure your gadgetry is never at a loss, and a cooler to ensure you’ll have a cold beverage or two along the way.

    We now have one of the first electric safari vehicles available at Ol Pejeta Bush Camp as well as an incredibly nifty photographic safari vehicle that is available for guests on request. Private vehicles can also be arranged in advance at an additional cost.

  • Is there wifi available?

    All of our camps do have basic wifi available in certain areas.It is important to note that while wifi is available, it is more than likely not at the same fast speeds that you may be used to, but sufficient for checking emails and keeping in touch with home.

  • Can I charge my phone? What type of plugs do I need?

    Electricity is available at 220/240 volts AC, 50 Hz. Primary Socket Type: British BS- 1363 (British Standard). Adaptor plugs will be available in some lodges but we advise that you bring at least one with you.Please be aware that the power supply is subject to cuts and voltage fluctuations even in major cities!On safari, most of the lodges are powered by generators or solar panels and these are often turned off during parts of the day and night to reduce noise and fuel consumption. Please also note that in most camps and lodges, power sockets for charging are only available in the main area.

  • What is the accommodation like?

    Most of our camps feature stylish and authentic tented suites in keeping with the classic safari experience. Each tent has a main bedroom with an ensuite shower, toilet and basin, decorated to reflect an authentic safari style while providing the necessary amenities and furnishings to provide a comfortable retreat.

  • What toiletries are included?

    Shampoo, conditioner, body wash, hand wash, and body lotions are all provided in camp. Please do note that hairdryers are only available at Matemwe and Sayari Camp. This is because, in the bush, electricity is a precious resource and is supplied largely from solar power and generators, so not all of our camps can support hairdryers.

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  • What is the Great Wildebeest Migration?

    The Great Wildebeest Migration is the largest animal migration in the world. Every year, more than 2 million animals (wildebeest, zebra, and gazelle) migrate in a clockwise direction across the ecosystems of the Serengeti (Tanzania) and the Masai Mara (Kenya). On the way, they have to cross crocodile-infested rivers, are hunted by predators, and face natural disasters such as droughts and flooding in a daily struggle for survival.

    Asilia Africa operates a number of camps specifically along the route of the migration to offer you a front-row seat to all the migration action. For example, Sayari Camp is located close to many of the Mara River crossing points in the Northern Serengeti. We have three mobile camps in the Serengeti which move to two or three locations in a year to ensure proximity to the action of the migration, while other camps are in a fixed location and offer additional amenities such as swimming pools.

    Still feel like you need to know more about The Great Migration? Read this blog post for everything you need to know about the Migration.

  • Which is the best camp for the Great Wildebeest Migration?

    Since the Great Migration sees the herds migrate slowly over a route thousands of kilometres long, the best camp for experiencing it will largely depend on the time of year. In addition, although the animals broadly follow the same ancient migratory route every year, there are occasional variations based on environmental or weather conditions, such as the rainfall in a given year.

    For this reason, Asilia Africa has permanent camps that cover the traditional migration route as well as semi-permanentcamps which are moved 2 to 3 times a year to ensure prime game viewing.

  • What is the best time to see the Great Wildebeest Migration?

    The Great Migration can be enjoyed year round. Different times of year and location will offer different encounters, so it’s a good idea to work closely with your travel agent to ensure you plan the ideal migration safari to suit your needs.

    The first few months of the year offer exceptional predator encounters in the Serengeti as this is the calving season for the wildebeest and newborns make for an easy kill.

    By July, the herds are heading into the central Serengeti where the wildebeest make their first river crossing, and take their chances against the waiting (and hungry) crocodiles.

    In August, the herds cross over into Kenya’s Masai Mara and by September, the big herds have fragmented into smaller groups. The last few months of the year bring the short rains, causing the Wildebeest to move back into the Serengeti where the animals brace themselves for the next calving season and predator attacks.

    You can read more here about what to expect from the migration each month as well as which of our camps are best positioned to enjoy this spectacle at those times of year.

  • Are all Asilia Camps open year-round?

    You can enjoy a safari with Asilia all year round, however, the season will influence the kind of experience you’re likely to have. To get an idea of what the different months have to offer, have a look here. If your dates are not flexible, drop us a line and we’ll structure the ideal safari to suit your needs.

  • How do I choose which camp to visit?

    Choosing your ideal safari will generally depend on a combination of the following factors: who you are travelling with (e.g. are you going with your family), where you want to go (e.g. Kenya or Tanzania), what you would like to see (e.g. Great Migration) and any special activities you are interested in doing (e.g. hot air ballooning or climbing Kilimanjaro).

    You can narrow down your choices using our safari tools for where to go and what to do, or you could check out some of our itineraries to get you started with some ideas.

    We’d love to hear from you so we can create the perfect safari to suit your needs.

  • Where are Asilia’s camps?

    We specialise in Kenya and Tanzania, home to some of the highest concentrations of wildlife in the world. Our camps are positioned in prime locations ranging from the world famous Serengeti and Masai Mara, through to critical private conservancies, as well as more pioneering areas somewhat off the beaten track.

    Kenya: Greater Maasai Mara, Mara Naboisho Conservancy & Ol Pejeta Conservancy

    Tanzania: Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Ruaha, Rubondo, The Selous, & Tarangire

    Zanzibar: Matemwe

  • How do I choose between Kenya or Tanzania?

    If you have more time available for your holiday, the bordering countries of Kenya and Tanzania can easily be combined with each other as well as with other nearby places like Uganda, Rwanda and Zanzibar. If you are going on a shorter trip (less than 10 nights is a fair guideline), choosing which country to enjoy will depend on what you want to see and do. For example, if you’re planning a migration safari, your destination of choice will be largely dependent on where the wildebeest are at your chosen time of travel.

    To provide you with the best advice tailored to your particular travel needs, we recommend contacting your preferred travel agent or simply enquire with us and we’ll get right back to you.

  • Can I combine my safari with a trip to Zanzibar?

    Definitely - Zanzibar is a great addition to any safari itinerary or even just as an idyllic escape on its own!

  • What are meals like on safari?

    Meals on safari feature wholesome homemade dishes with a hint of local flavour. We take great pride in growing our own fresh, organic produce wherever possible and supporting local communities.

    Our camp chefs are able to cater to any dietary requirements with advance notice, including preparing gluten free, dairy free, vegan, and halaal meals.

    Lunch is usually a buffet featuring fresh salads and meaty mains, while dinner is a 3-course meal served beneath the stars. Dishes feature beef, chicken or fish, and wholesome organic produce with a hint of local spices and flavours. You can read more about Asilia's culinary experience here.

  • What is the accommodation on an Asilia safari like?

    Most of our camps feature stylish and authentic tented suites in keeping with the classic safari experience. Each tent has a main bedroom with a shower, toilet and basin, decorated to reflect the local cultures while providing the necessary amenities and furnishings to provide a comfortable retreat. Do not worry about packing in shampoo, conditioner, body wash, or lotion - these are all provided for you in camp.

    Please note, all laundry in camp is done by hand and dried outdoors, therefore turnaround time is dependant on the weather. Out of respect to local culture and customs, we do not wash underwear. Washing powder is provided in all of our guest rooms should guests wish to wash their own.

  • What is included in the price of my safari?

    The overall cost of your safari can vary depending on a range of factors including seasonality, activities, any special offers that may apply as well as other factors.

    Generally, a safari at Asilia’s properties will cost you anything from USD $450 per person, per night, and upwards. Your accommodation costs are all-inclusive, which means that all meals, local alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, and game drives with our expert guides are included.

    For a more accurate estimate, it’s best to contact a safari specialist travel agent who can package an itinerary to suit your needs and budget. Alternatively, you can get in touch with us.

  • Can I book my safari directly with Asilia?

    We handle our booking process through a trusted group of highly experienced East Africa safari experts. We operate this way due to there being many nuances involved in planning a well-arranged, unforgettable safari holiday in East Africa. We know through experience that this is simply the best way to ensure our guests enjoy a seamless trip matched to their individual needs. Due to the volumes handled by these agents, they’ll also ensure you get the best possible overall price. If you’re thinking of joining us on a trip to East Africa and you are not currently working with an agent, simply enquire on our website and we’ll arrange for the best agent matched to your needs to tailor-make the ideal itinerary to suit all your needs.

    If you're unsure whether to book far in advance or not, this blog post may help provide some clarity.

  • How do I get from the airport to your camps?

    Getting around in East Africa requires significantly more planning than other destinations. Distances can be large; roads may be few. Our safari experts know their way around and can arrange all the transfers you require.

  • What are the vaccination requirements?

    Certain vaccinations may be required for travel to Africa, for example, often you will need a yellow fever vaccination. To be sure, consult your travel agent and your local Travel Clinic to obtain the latest health travel advisories. Concerning Visas, your travel agent will help there too.

  • What are the visa requirements?

    Kindly consult your relevant embassy for full details of visa requirements. Please indicate clearly that Asilia Africa is the DMC / ground handler and not the address of first overnight stay.

    For addresses and telephone numbers please visit our "contact us" page and either use Kenya (Nairobi) or Tanzania (Arusha) information depending on which country you are visiting.

  • What are the points of entry to get to your camps?

    For International visitors, the following apply:

    Kenya: Nairobi
    Tanzania: Dar es Salaam or Kilimanjaro Airport

  • Help! I’m planning my first safari. Where do I start?

    One way to start researching is by reading up more on the different safari destinations to visit, such as Tanzania or Kenya.  We also have some handy tools to help you along, including our camp finder and our experiences page. Another great place to draw inspiration from and to whet your appetite is by browsing our list of itineraries. These can be booked as-is, or customised to suit your needs.

    We recommend talking to a specialist East Africa consultant who will assist you with your plans.  In addition, they’ll be able to arrange your transfers, flights, and any additional activities you require. If you do not already have an agent, simply enquire with us and we’ll put you in touch with one of our trusted East Africa specialists.

    Find out more about what to expect on your first safari with us here.

  • Can I still go on safari if I have special medical needs?

    A safari can be suitable for a wide range of ages and physical conditions. With advanced notice, our camps are capable of catering to certain special requirements, so it’s best to advise your travel specialist early on in your booking process.

  • Are safaris suitable for people in wheelchairs?

    Some of our camps are accessible by wheelchair. It’s best to chat to your consultant as they will be able to advise which of our camps with be most suitable.

  • What do I pack for my holiday?

    There are a few handy items you won’t want to forget when going on safari such as a hat and sunblock to name a few. However, it is important to note that certain light aircraft transfer flights will have a smaller and stricter luggage limit. Please note, all laundry in camp is done by hand and dried outdoors, therefore turnaround time is dependant on the weather. Out of respect to local culture and customs, we do not wash underwear. Washing powder is provided in all of our guest rooms should guests wish to wash their own.

    Do not worry about packing in shampoo, conditioner, body wash, or lotion - these are all provided for you in camp. You can read our recommendations on everything from clothing to photography to toiletries in this blog post.

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