By Alisdair Hooper
The Chairman of our U.K. Charity recently visited some Asilia assisted projects in East Africa.
“If the predator population is thriving the ecosystem is working,” explains Kenya Wildlife Trust chair Allan Earnshaw.
From the heart of the Mara, it is easy to see why.
Cheetahs, hyenas, wild dogs, leopards and lions are all vital to the inner workings of one of the most incredible places on earth – an area so abundant with wildlife visitors flock from all corners of the globe to see it. Yet as Kenyan predator populations dwindle it is a sign that something is very wrong.
The Kenya Wildlife Trust – one of the organisations backed by Asilia Giving – are a team determined to seek out the problems and, ultimately, find the solutions. Together, with the help of valuable donations, they are fighting for the future of the country’s predators. If anything is to hammer home the seriousness of the situation then cheetah population numbers will do just that. In 1975 there were roughly 15,000 cheetahs, by 2015 that dropped dramatically to 7,100.
Michael Kaeolo, the trust’s Community and Public Relations manager, then decided to play a guessing game while explaining the population drop: “How many of those 7,100 cheetahs reside in the Mara?” Naturally, the initial estimate of around 3,000 was well wide of the mark – as it turns out it is around 32.
This sums up just how important the trust’s work is. With the funds provided by organisations such as Asilia, it enables the team to put together vital data to ensure the problems are fully understood.
Their flagship lion and cheetah projects have already uncovered a number of important findings. For instance, cheetah were widely considered to be an open plain species – the Kenya Wildlife Trust’s research proved that wasn’t the case as the spotted cat frequently took advantage of bush and undergrowth for their safety and the protection of their cubs.
In 2018 the trust will take a new direction as the cheetah and lion project are encompassed into a brand new Mara Predator Conservation Programme allowing for a long-term strategy and approach. Dr Caroline Ng’weno, who is currently Head of Research and Monitoring at Ol Pejeta Conservancy, will be joining as the programme’s director in January.
But what of the solutions that emerge from the vital data collected by the trust?
While a host of problems have presented themselves, the organisation focuses on solutions they can have a direct impact on – namely human-wildlife conflict, education, improving pre-existing practices and ensuring local people benefit in some way. “We asked some local children to draw pictures of lions,” explains Kaelo. “A large majority of them drew them with spears coming out of them and being attacked.”
While this is something simple it underlines the perception many inhabitants of the Mara have regarding the predators. In an economy that is still largely dominated by livestock, animals that can prey on cattle are seen as a major enemy. As such the Kenya Wildlife Trust’s community work is essential in changing attitudes and practices.
Up until now, the organisation has held 14 barazas, with a total of 700 participants, to educate the younger generation and children are brought out on informative game drives. The trust has also developed a film highlighting the importance of predators, which has been screened to a number of locals. When surveyed 60% of those at the screenings were deemed to have favourable views towards predators before watching, that rose to 75% after seeing the film.
Part of the education also regards pre-existing practices of local people by helping to strengthen bomas and also to improve herding techniques – too often cattle are left either unattended or herded by children.
Of course, the education isn’t just restricted to those in the area but also to those visiting. Tourists overcrowding can cause stress to predators as well as helping to spread life-threatening disease, something many visitors are totally unaware of.
Additionally, people encouraging cheetahs to jump on top of their vehicles for photo opportunities is not only discouraged, it is banned. Funding is essential to what the Kenya Wildlife Trust does. Without key donations, their work simply could not exist on the scale that it does and predator populations would be at an even graver risk than they already are.
With your continued support, the trust can continue to take steps towards its overall vision: ‘A Kenya where predator populations are a cornerstone of thriving ecosystems.’