My first week in Kenya
After my first week in Kenya I already got used to the African way of living (except for using a hole in the grounds as a toilet). Everything in a relaxed pace, resting during the day since it is simply too hot, everywhere you go African music and beaming white smiles from the local people.
Comparing Kenya with South Africa, I think the people here in the Mara are poorer and have fewer luxuries. There is almost no electricity, in the village where I live; only two places have solar energy, so every inhabitant of the village will go there to charge their phones. Next to this, where in South Africa most people have smartphones, here only the lucky few have them; while the rest use older simple phones, (even the good old Nokia 3310 is used).
I started my research and went to different villages to conduct interviews with the local people. I find it striking that of all the people I interviewed everybody claimed the lost livestock to predators (in this area leopards and hyena's are responsible). Surrounding the huts (made out of clay and sometimes mixed with cement and thatched grass roofs) I often find hyena scat (which is easily to recognize since it is white of colour, this because of the calcium in the bones that hyena's eat). I found the remains of small calves that were killed by a leopard, and bones and skin of goats that were killed by probably the same leopard on another occasion.
In an area where households rely on subsistence farming and livestock for survival, losing livestock to predators can compromise household’s economic security. I spoke to a guy of my age who wanted to go to University and decided to sell some sheep and goats in order to come up with money for the tuition fees. However, one night a leopard came and killed its price animal (which he would sell for a lot of money) so he did not have enough money to go to university and had to wait for next year. You can imagine that these people have negative attitudes towards predators (and wildlife in general since not only predators are responsible for losing money, but elephants, buffalo's and baboons often raid entire crop fields leaving nothing behind). These negative attitudes often result in the retaliatory killing of animals. They would inject a carcass with poison, the Leopard, hyenas and ultimately the vultures would eat this and the poison would kill them all.
While vultures are seen as dirty and ugly creatures, they are vital in a healthy ecosystem. They are nature’s clean-up crew, often preventing the spread of diseases among wildlife. Killing these birds will eventually lead to a degraded ecosystem. Conservation and protection is essential in these areas. It is encouraging to see that NGO's (like friends of conservation, the organization I do research for) are improving awareness and conservation knowledge among the local communities. Let’s hope it is not too late.