Before 2014, Nchoroke ole Sitonik, a resident of Injakata village in the Olgulului Group Ranch knew no peace.
He would sit up all night guarding his cattle and other livestock against wildlife attacks. The ranch is in Kenya’s Kajiado County in Amboseli.
"Living near a national park means we must be alert at all times or risk losing our livestock," said Mr Sitonik.
“And after guarding livestock all night, it is almost impossible to engage in any productive activity during the day.”
In Enkirgirri village in Mbirikani Group Ranch in Makueni County Jeremiah Lemiti suffered the same fate.
In September 2017 for example, he lost 10 goats and 10 cows in one night after lions attacked his boma. The previous year, he lost 15 cows and 50 goats and sheep.
On one occasion, leopards descended on Mr Lemiti’s boma at 4pm, killing 10 lactating cows leaving nine young calves.
His family was forced to manually feed the calves and by good luck some survived.
A boma is a traditional livestock enclosure made from thorn bushes and sticks.
Olgulului and Mbirikani are part of the greater Amboseli-West Kilimanjaro ecosystem, which straddles the Kenya-Tanzania border. It is home to about 200 lions.
On the Kenyan side, it covers the Amboseli National Park and the Mbirikani, Eselenkei, Olgulului/Oloolarashi, Rombo, Kuku and Kimana community group ranches.
Tanzania’s West Kilimanjaro (Enduimet Wildlife Management Area) for its part, comprises eight villages.
Communities living adjacent to the protected areas struggle with human-wildlife conflict.
Change of land use from pastoralism to agriculture has resulted in lifestyles incompatible with wildlife conservation.
The senior warden at the Amboseli National Park, Kenneth ole Nashuu, said that climate change, environmental degradation with land use changes pose a challenge to conservation as people encroach on wildlife habitat and dispersal areas.
“Kimana Group Ranch, which once covered 28,000 acres, now has only 6,000 acres, after the land was subdivided for agricultural activities,” he said.
To reduce human-wildlife conflict and animal deaths, in came the Born Free Foundation with predator-proof bomas (PPBs). The organisation has built the structures across five community-managed group ranches.
“The predator-proof bomas reduce night-time livestock killing, mainly by lions and hyenas, and prevent retaliatory killings,” said Born Free head of conservation programmes David Manoa.
They structures comprise strong poles made from recycled plastic, each spaced three metres apart with a two-metre high hexagonal steel wire mesh, and doors made from recycled oil drums.
A thorn barrier is planted outside to reinforce the structures. Old thorns prevent cattle from damaging the fence from inside.
The project, covering the entire Amboseli and part of West Kilimanjaro area, has been running since 2014.
“The number of people benefiting from the project, a joint venture with residents, is 5,775 so far. The heads of livestock protected is 80,575,” said Mr Manoa.
Mr Sitonik and Mr Lemiti are among those who have put up the “special” bomas.
Mr Sitonik said villagers who work for conservation groups send alerts to KWS in case of an impeding attack, which has helped to raise awareness about the need to conserve wildlife.
For Mr Lemiti, the turning point was the night in September 2017, when he lost 10 cows. He built the predator-proof bomas and now offers shelter for his neighbours, livestock at night.
“I normally advise people to build PPBs as the compensation process from the Kenya Wildlife Service is tedious and takes at least two months pending investigations,” said Mr Lemiti.
Olchurie Kitipai of Injakata village is among villagers who are yet to join the bandwagon.
Currently, he reinforces his traditional boma by planting the thorny commiphora tree species on the edge of the homestead. He, however, plans to build a PPB soon.
There are more than 200 such structures in the ecosystem. Olgulului Group Ranch has 71, Mbirikani 100, Kimana 46, Kuku 22, Rombo five, Eselenkei 21, and West Kilimanjaro has 10.
According to Mr Manoa, in 2013, Born Free introduced a cost-sharing model in order to instil a sense of ownership of the PPB.
They cost a minimum $2,400 to put up. The cost rises with the size. Communities contribute towards the cost of the materials and provide labour mainly digging holes for the poles.
Demand is high and priority is given to individuals in areas with the highest predator conflict.
For every PPB built in Amboseli, Born Free offers a solar kit — two solar panels and efficient cooking stoves with chimneys to expel smoke from the manyatta (traditional house). Families also receive tanks to collect water during the rainy season.
According to the KWS, retaliatory killing of lions in the Amboseli-West Kilimanjaro ecosystem by Maasai morans has decreased due to development projects in the area, and the adoption of amicable conflict resolution methods.
KWS works in partnership with Born Free Foundation Kenya, Big Life Foundation and Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust, to address human-wildlife conflict in the Amboseli ecosystem.
The lion population in the Amboseli-West Kilimanjaro ecosystem rose to between 70 and 90 in 2013, from 50 in 2008, and now stands at about 200.
The lion, a revered predator that once roamed Africa, has become a victim of complex threats as human populations grow.
Southern and East African lions are listed as vulnerable, on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List, but the West African sub-species is considered to be critically endangered.
“Human-lion conflict arises when lions attack livestock forcing people to retaliate. Retaliation using poison can kill an entire pride, along with other species,” said Mr Nashuu.
In the event of wildlife attacks in the Amboseli, residents use phones to call Big Life Foundation compensation officers. Consolation money is paid if the predator is not killed in retaliation.
“Big Life pays consolation money as a portion of economic loss. It is a give and take situation.
We use elders to persuade morans not to retaliate as soon as predation occurs,” said Mbirikani Location chief Joseph Ndoipo.
Mr Ndoipo said that the local administration, Big Life, KWS with other organisations verify the existence of the carcass in the boma and take evidence including photographs, while residents are cautioned not kill predators because if they do so, they risk being jailed.
Big Life pays about $250 as consolation for a cow. People demanding full compensation get a credit note and wait for money from Kenya’s National Treasury. Kenya forbids locals killing wildlife as it is government property.
The rules are enforced by KWS, which helps in property protection through patrols, and manages national parks as well as dispersal areas.
KWS compensates for human injury and livestock predation but does not cover crop raiding.
Community-managed ranches handle livestock, grazing and conflicts. Management designates areas and times for grazing.
To ensure herders and wildlife do not cross paths, scouts patrol grazing zones.
Some problematic lions are fitted with collars and tracked by trained scouts who combine the use of technology with their traditional tracking knowledge to monitor the movements of the lions. They then inform herders where to graze their livestock.
The history of PPBs in the ecosystem dates back to 2010 when Born Free took nine elders from different group ranches in Kajiado County to Liakipia County in northern Kenya where hyena attacks were common.
Born Free redesigned hyena predator-proof bomas by increasing height and incorporating the use of doors made from recycled oil drums to suit Kajiado County, where there are more cattle than sheep.
The project’s success in Kajiado County recently led the Africa Wildlife Foundation to ask Born Free to build predator-proof bomas in West Kilimanjaro.
AWF sourced materials from Tanzanian suppliers and put up 10 structures.