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Find lasting solution to human, wildlife conflict

In the past few weeks, pastoralists in Kajiado have reportedly poisoned several lions after they attacked and killed livestock. In other parts of the country, elephants were killed by farmers for destroying crops.

The human wildlife conflict in Kenya is raging. The least we can do is plan for the future before these conflicts get out of hand, and we end up with no wildlife at all.

We must begin to think much more broadly than in the past because our fabled wildlife are becoming extinct. The survival of our wildlife is clearly our problem, yet we behave as though these animals belong to other foreign entities, whose responsibility it is to ensure their wellbeing.

Locally, it is just a handful of people who are genuinely concerned that the rate at which we are losing some animals is at a crisis level. They are convinced that what the animals are facing is a crisis similar to the insecurity in the country.

The difference is that although animals may think, they are not able to raise the alarm that they are being unfairly targeted. We cannot solve the wildlife problem without solving land ownership and the appetite for using land for speculative purposes.

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As it is now, the Nairobi National Park is as good as dead since human habitation has closed the migratory routes for wildlife.

Deep into the Masai Mara Game Reserve, rich people are buying land for speculative purposes and it is only a matter of time before the Mara spectacle is no more.

Let us for a moment look at what is at play in just one game reserve and what sort of future we anticipate if things do not change. The vast Mara veldts are dwindling fast. The Maasai group ranches are also shrinking. Nairobi is expanding into Kajiado from the North.

The Western agricultural communities like the Kisii, Kipsigis and the Luo are buying into the vast plains of Transmara.

From the East, large-scale wheat farmers are reducing the grasslands, and in the South, the animal corridor into the Serengeti is attracting land speculators.

These expansions and encroachments come with political consequences. It is likely that in the future, non-Maasai will dominate the political landscape.

It will be the start of a more serious conflict thanis already playing out in Transmara and in Kitengela. We can stop this ensuing crises.

We need the wildlife, and we need the freedom to live anywhere but we also need to protect indigenous people and their way of life as a basis for building an inclusive society.

There is need to respect our differences and how we perceive life. The Maasai have always been pastoralists embracing communal land ownership and living within many agriculturalist communities that adore this land ownership mentality.

The solution to these problems must be all-encompassing, immediate and very comprehensive. It will be minimalist thinking if we attempt to solve the problem from the angle of human wildlife conflict.

We must begin with projecting how the lives of the Maasai will be like in 20 or 50 years from now and what needs to be done to avoid any future conflict.

One possibility is that the Maasai will transform and become an urban society and leave Maasai Mara and Amboseli game reserves to wildlife but this is unlikely in the near term given the fact that majority of Kenyans, even those in urban areas, are deeply rooted in their cultural roots.

The other possibility is to set aside the game reserve, manage it professionally and pay the community proceeds from the parks.

What is clear is the fact that the Maasai can no longer continue to enjoy a nomadic lifestyle in a fast changing environment.

The entire Maasai leadership should somehow begin a comprehensive education on their future, draw a line in the sand as to what constitutes the ancestral home, the game reserves and a carefully plan political representation in areas they are slowly losing majority status.

Nothing will fall in place unless we proactively deal with the emerging problem in a broad way and with inclusivity. This may include constitutional changes to ensure community representation in the days to come.

The fencing of the Aberdares game reserve has significantly reduced human wildlife conflict.

This must be replicated in all other game reserves where there is no conflict but at the same time recognize the original owners by developing some revenue sharing programme.

Wildlife and game reserves are national – and global - assets that must be protected for posterity.

The writer is an associate professor at University of Nairobi’s Business School.

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