Amboseli’s community game scouts, boots on the ground for wildlife and people
As our vehicle steadily snakes through the dusty tracks of Amboseli’s Olgulului Oloolarashi Group Ranch (OOGR), Leshinka ole Sereu informs us that he heard lions the evening before. “They were seen around this area in the late evening and we heard them in the night. They are two adult males and our community scouts are presently tracking them.”
Sereu, the Senior Sergeant in charge of 42 community games scouts in OOGR, abruptly asks the driver to stop and swiftly jumps out of the vehicle. As we follow him silently, he points to the ground. “Here are some lion paw tracks. See them? Follow me!”
We walk a few metres ahead, eyes squinting in the bright light trying to make out more lion tracks but our eyes fails us. “Look, these are even better,” he smiles, revealing a bewitching gap between his teeth.
We marveled at his eyesight and he jokes that despite his small eyes and being almost 50 years old, he can see far much better than we can. He also knows the ways of the wild much better and more intimately than all of us combined.
We embark on our journey, this time to Lemomo Hill - a vantage point in the landscape. En route, we meet a team of three scouts following the lion tracks towards the community homesteads. Tracking predators is vital as it helps reduce or prevent depredation on the community’s livestock. We stop to chat with them briefly and they show us some more tracks before they continue with their morning brief.
At the foot of Lemomo Hill, we meet two scouts who have pitched tent for a couple of weeks. It’s a hard life! The temperatures are soaring and unforgiving.
They lack basic equipment including camping materials. Their makeshift kitchen is under in the shade where they use three cooking stones and firewood; that they have to collect, to prepare their meals.
Nonetheless, they remain resilient, upbeat, and are happy to see us, albeit briefly. Their main brief is to keep an eye on any illegal activity or strangers in the area. There is a good reason for this. Last October, a well-known and beloved elephant matriarch and her two daughters were killed for their ivory between this Hill and Embarangoi Hill.
We decide to climb Lemomo Hill for a panoramic view of the landscape. It‘s a labyrinth 15 minute climb, avoiding wait-a-bit thorns, holes and volcanic boulders. At the top, we find a deep two metre wide hole, apparently the work of mercury diggers.
In Kenya, and probably other parts of Africa, there were unconfirmed stories that land beacons had mercury which led to many beacons getting unearthed. Lemomo had not been spared. At a distance, we watch a KWS patrol vehicle moving along Kitenden area.
It then changed direction and headed towards the Hill. Oddly, the driver parked under the shade of an acacia tree which sparked a debate amongst us as to why he would do so.
A few minutes later, we shift our focus to Sereu who gives us an orientation of the different aspects of the landscape as we also take photos of the area with a magnificent backdrop of Mt Kilimanjaro.
Little do we know that we are being stalked by KWS rangers who, together with their counterparts in Tanzania and community scouts from both countries, have become more vigilant of the on goings at the Hill after the slaughter of Qumquat, and her family.
Before the rangers reach the top, we embark on our descent, taking an easier route thus avoiding our stalkers altogether. Only when we are driving away from the area do we meet with the KWS driver who informs us that his colleagues were stalking us with intention of laying an ambush, but they had got word of who we were.
Complementing rangers in wildlife protection
OOGR started with 16 scouts, now there are 42. Only 3 of the 42 have been formally trained. Presently, with support from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), ten scouts are undergoing training for three months at the KWS Law Enforcement Academy in Manyani, Tsavo.
They will graduate in May and join their colleagues in keeping the poachers at bay, monitoring wildlife, and assisting their community with any wildlife-related incidences.
Sereu started as a scout 10 years ago and rose to his present rank.
“My responsibilities are these scouts who report to me, overseeing regular wildlife monitoring, monitoring impacts on biodiversity, mitigating conflict between people and animals, preventing livestock depredation, defusing retaliation against wildlife, gathering intelligence, assisting rescue of wildlife in distress, and more.
We do everything that a ranger does except arrest suspects; that has to be done by KWS. We also don’t have firearms but work in collaboration with KWS on security operations.”
During a brief meeting with the ten scouts last month, before they reported to the training school, they informed us of the distances they travelled to get to the OOGR offices.
While being encouraged to speak openly, without fear, and to the nods of his colleagues, Jackson Sitonik, one of the scouts, recounted to us a list of the challenges they face – from means of transport from one area or outpost to another, few scouts with a huge area to cover, need for more outposts and bases, lack of equipment to defend themselves from armed poachers, meagre salaries, etc.
He summarised with a note of confidence that they are aware that IFAW is an organisation that works well with the Maasai community for both animals and people.
Partnering with Community
As the eyes and boots on the ground, the role of community scouts in protecting wildlife and other natural resources in the Amboseli landscape cannot be overemphasised.
Expectedly, almost all non-state actors in the landscape work with the various group ranches to support the community scouts.
In IFAW’s case, we are partnering with OOGR to uplift the standards of the community scouts in terms of training, provision of uniforms, equipment, setting up additional outposts and operational bases, amongst other support.
There are also plans to work with the Amboseli Tsavo Game Scouts Association (ATGSA), the scouts’ umbrella body in the region, to ensure it undertakes its duties effectively and efficiently.