Midnight lion raids heighten human-wildlife conflict fears in Tanzania

Under the shade of an acacia tree, 51-year-old Saimon Lolkera, a Maasai pastoralist with distended earlobes, recalls the night when hungry lions broke into his livestock enclosure and killed five cows. 

“It was a moonless night. I heard a loud roar and realized the lions had entered the boma,” Lolkera said, using the local term for livestock pens.

Armed with an arrow and a shield, Lolkera and his sons rushed out, shouting and banging pots to scare off the predators, but to no avail.

By dawn, the enclosure was littered with carcasses, their bellies torn open.

“We could see their gleaming eyes as they ate our cows. We had to stay away for our safety,” Lolkera told Anadolu.

For the indigenous Maasai, livestock is a vital economic asset and source of food.

“When lions eat our livestock, we suffer a lot because it’s our only source of income. We can’t sleep at night now because we are worried about our animals,” Lolkera said.

Across Ruvu, a village in the Arusha region of Tanzania’s Simanjiro district, farmers and pastoralists are facing similar problems as stray wild animals, including lions and elephants, have been frequently invading their fields.

Just a few weeks ago, lions killed 70 cows in the same area, and Yohanna Maitei, a local leader in Ruvu, said they have been attacking humans as well.

“It’s not safe at all to travel at night, even on motorcycles,” he told Anadolu.

“These lions have to be moved to other areas. We can’t afford any more losses.”

Despite their historic coexistence with wildlife, the Maasai pastoralists in northern Tanzania have always had a hostile relationship with lions, forced to guard their cattle armed with swords and sticks.

John Mwakaje, a conservation officer at the Department of Natural Resources in Simanjiro, told Anadolu that the government intends to relocate these stray lions.

“We want to move them to designated conservation areas. That will protect both the people and the animals,” he said.

For this plan, authorities intend to involve animal behaviorists to “monitor how the lions adapt to the new environment and ensure their well-being,” he said.

The other part of the plan focuses on raising community awareness because we want “local communities to live harmoniously with wildlife,” he added.  

Human-wildlife conflict on the rise

Across Tanzania, human-wildlife conflict is rising as farmers and pastoralists, themselves desperate for resources, encroach on protected wildlife areas.

This scramble for space and resources, coupled with the impacts of climate change and expedited habitat loss, is only worsening the problem.

“Indigenous communities often live in harmony with wildlife, but the ability to maintain this balance is increasingly at risk,” said Alex Lobora, a wildlife researcher at the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute.

One of the government strategies to combat the issue is to develop alternative livelihoods for local communities, such as touristic activities.

To curb the actual loss of livestock, there are also plans to reinforce Maasai bomas, which “can make a big difference in stopping lions from getting in or discouraging livestock from straying away at night,” according to lion conservationist William Oleseki

The Tanzanian government also has a conservation model that allows local communities to exploit wildlife resources in the Rungwa Game Reserve, reducing poaching.

While protected areas are globally recognized as biodiversity hotspots, only 12% of Africa’s land is believed to be actually protected.

In Tanzania, 40% of the land has been designated for conservation, but illegal activities continue to threaten its biodiversity and ecosystems in and around protected lands.

A harvest-based initiative implemented in the remote Sikonge district of Tanzania’s Tabora region allows local people to harvest wildlife resources through fishing and beekeeping, giving them a source of livelihood and reducing the tendency of poaching.

Researchers studied the impact of this initiative on wildlife poaching around the Ugalla and Rungwa game reserves.

The reserves, located some 300 kilometers (185 miles) apart, host a wide array of plant and animal species, including elephants, lions, antelopes and wild dogs.

The study showed that involving local communities in the management of protected areas led to increased awareness of biodiversity benefits, though tracking ecosystem health and biodiversity loss remains challenging.

For instance, in Ugalla, where harvest-based initiatives are allowed, researchers found fewer incidences of unlawful harvest compared to Rungwa, where they are banned.

The study concluded that curbing poaching in protected areas requires a holistic approach involving surrounding communities in wildlife conservation and sharing the benefits.

“The success of a particular protected area is measured in terms of the achievement of the objective of its establishment, often conservation of biodiversity resources within and around it,” said Michael Muganda, a professor of ecology at the Sokoine University of Agriculture.

“Given that we conserve for the people, it is important that the success of a protected area be measured in terms of how it engages with local communities’ interests and livelihoods.”

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