120718 1 1 Ezra with Broken Spear in Head Amboseli July 18 2012

Ezra with Broken Spear in Head, Amboseli, July 18 2012
(see other story in LATEST NEWS)

by Nick Brandt
July 18 2012

There have been a lot of reports, mainly inaccurate, circulating regarding the crisis that exploded in Amboseli this week . Here is a brief status, as of 11am on Wednesday morning. The situation is constantly evolving so this report will be updated as and when appropriate :

Last week, a Maasai boy was tragically killed by a buffalo in the Amboseli ecosystem. One officer from Kenya Wildlife Service unfortunately blamed the killing on the Maasai, not on the buffalo. All hell broke loose. 200 warriors went on a rampage to spear any elephants and buffalo they could find. One buffalo was killed and one elephant speared in the process, before the warriors were temporarily talked down, the KWS officer moved elsewhere, and a provisional agreement made that the Director of KWS would meet to discuss the communities' grievances the following week.

The meeting happened on Monday, but a Community Warden and two board members went in place of the Director of KWS. The Maasai community were furious, felt they were disrespected and the meeting broke up. As a result, all communication broke down between KWS and the Maasai communities around Amboseli.

Most of the tension relates to the fact that the Maasai only receive a tiny proportion of the revenue from Amboseli National Park. The park is only 300,000 acres in a 2m. acre + ecosystem, and most of the animals inhabit or move in and out of the unprotected areas where the Maasai live. Each night, three-quarters of Amboseli's elephant population will typically be outside the park. So with an ever-increasing population encircling the park, they thus face the consequences of raided crops, livestock killed by predators etc. But the uprising is basically related to politics and revenue, with the County Council of the area wanting a much greater percentage of park revenue both for itself and for the local communities.

So starting at 6am yesterday, hundreds of warriors in the villages surrounding Amboseli National Park were instructed to go and spear ALL ELEPHANTS, LION AND BUFFALO that they could find, to make their point known. They would not kill animals inside the park.

Frustratingly, all Big Life and other community rangers around Amboseli in Kenya were instructed to stand down by the community leaders, as they would not be safe once the warriors went on their rampage, even though the communities' problem is all related to KWS, not Big Life or other NGO's working to protect the ecosystem and its animals.

Yesterday was brutal. As the warriors spread across the ecosystem hunting down elephant herds as they made their daily morning trek towards the park, Kenya Wildlife Service rangers were completely outnumbered, and much of the time could only stand by and watch as the warriors swarmed around the elephants hurling spears at them. (in Elerai, for example, there were an estimated 150 warriors all targeting one herd of elephants).

We don't have confirmed figures yet, but we have unconfirmed reports of at least ten elephants speared, one of Amboseli's oldest bulls badly wounded, another with ten spears in him, another beautiful 35 year old bull who was speared to death while sleeping under a tree in the lead-up to this situation. Also up to ten buffalo killed, and a lion.

Throughout the day, Richard Bonham, Big Life's Director of Operations, flew over the area, monitoring the situation and alerting where necessary, while spears were thrown at his plane.

Big Life's platoon commander in Tanzania, John Maghembe, marshalled several Big Life units up to the border, to protect elephant herds that were fleeing over into Tanzania for safety from marauding warriors. They also called in KINAPA and TANAPA rangers for further reinforcement and support.

Today, Wednesday, so far, the situation is much better. KWS has called in major reinforcements from adjoining Tsavo, Elite Special Unit teams, and more aerial support. There is now a strong, coordinated response to the situation. At the same time, the community leaders have ordered the killing to cease. There are still groups of warriors out there in hunting parties, but so far, as far as we know, they have been apprehended prior to making any kills.

However, this 'ceasefire' is temporary. It will only stand until if and when an agreement can be reached between KWS and the local communities and county council. We hope the situation can be resolved through dialogue before yet more innocent animals are killed.