The number of lions in Kenya has declined from 10,000 in the 1980s to only 2,500 today. The Amboseli Ecosystem in southern Kenya is home to an estimated 141 lions. Here, over 75% of people derive their livelihoods from livestock. With increasing land-use change, resources for all animals are restricted, and many carnivores, including lions, struggle to find prey. Inevitably, livestock are taken by lions, which are in turn persecuted and often killed. Life can be very difficult for all concerned, as both people and wildlife struggle for survival.

Pastoralists herding cattle into a boma.

The Born Free Foundation has worked in Amboseli since 2010, implementing a programme to mitigate this conflict. The team works with pastoralists to reinforce their traditional acacia-thorn bomas within which they corral their livestock at night. They help to fortify the structures using chain-link fencing, metal posts and doors, which cannot be penetrated by carnivores in search of an easy meal. Since the start of the programme, the team has constructed over 360 predator-proof bomas, protecting >100,000 head of livestock and helping secure the livelihoods of >7,500 people. Our predator-proof bomas are shown to be 91% effective at preventing carnivore incursion. Moko Kupere, a Maasai pastoralist living in Olgulului whose traditional boma was recently upgraded to a predator-proof boma, said: ‘The lions and hyenas have taken my livestock for many years, and they don’t say thank you! I want to say thank you to Born Free for accepting to upgrade my predator-proof boma.’

Lions in the Amboseli Landscape, Kenya.

Engagement of the boma owner is key to the long-term success of our programme: if predator-proof bomas are not maintained, they may lose their integrity, allowing carnivores to break in. Given the numerous pressures on pastoralist families—including more frequent and prolonged droughts potentially leading to loss of livestock, and therefore wealth—many factors can discourage or prevent a predator-proof boma owner from ensuring upkeep.

We looked at several potential drivers of boma upkeep, including the distance of the boma from the nearest national park; the extent of conflict in the immediate area; the size, age or materials used in constructing the boma; the number of livestock or people living within it; the density of traditional bomas in the immediate surroundings; and the distance to the nearest neighbouring predator-proof boma.

Cattle entering a predator-proof boma.

Some of our findings surprised us. For example, we expected that bomas with more livestock would lead animals to come into contact with the chain-link sides more often, resulting in more damage. We thought this would be reflected in the analysis, as more damage is simply harder to fix because of time or cost constraints. However, our results indicated the opposite: fewer livestock led to more damage. This could be because in emptier bomas, animals are able to move around more, so contact with the fencing may cause more damage. Alternatively, given livestock are currency for the Maasai pastoralists, with fewer livestock a predator-proof boma owner has a reduced financial capacity, and is less able to repair damage and maintain their boma.

We were not able to fully explore the possible influence of the extent of conflict surrounding the boma on its upkeep. We only had access to conflict data from a restricted part of the landscape so we could not include it as a variable in our main dataset on predator-proof bomas across the entire ecosystem. We would expect higher rates of conflict to translate to greater pressures on people, thus encouraging them to maintain their predator-proof bomas, in a bid to keep lions out. A future study will examine this in more detail.

A boma owner taking part in the survey.

Our study has revealed interesting insights into possible social drivers of boma maintenance. Those living in closer proximity to other predator-proof bomas were more likely to maintain their own. This might be because predator-proof boma owners share skills and tips they have learnt during construction and training, or perhaps they team up and assist each other with boma maintenance. Alternatively, if one predator-proof boma owner sees the effectiveness and integrity of their neighbour’s boma, this may encourage them to maintain their own to the same or higher standards.

Whichever subtleties of human nature underlie this observation, we plan to explore the effect in more detail. If we can fully understand this important requisite of the long-term sustainability of our programme, we can apply it to help ease the pressures on pastoralists and protect the lions living in the landscape. For, of course, the lions of the landscape are their neighbours too.

All photos: Born Free Foundation

The article Drivers of predator-proof boma disrepair in the Amboseli Ecosystem, Kenya is available in Oryx—The International Journal of Conservation.

Nikki Tagg is the Head of Conservation at the Born Free Foundation in the UK. She oversees the implementation of five conservation programmes in Africa and Asia, including the predator-proof boma initiative in the Amboseli Ecosystem. Born Free’s conservation programmes address issues such as human–wildlife conflict, bushmeat hunting and connectivity, and ultimately promote coexistence in multi-land use landscapes. She is trained as a zoologist, specialising in primatology and conservation science, and her previous research has focused on conservation biology of chimpanzees and gorillas in Central Africa.

David Manoa is Conservation Manager at Born Free Kenya. He is a Wildlife Ecologist with 20 years conservation experience, primarily in Kenya and Tanzania. He obtained his BSc in wildlife management before obtaining a Master’s degree in Environmental Planning & Management at the University of Nairobi. He is currently a PhD candidate in Biodiversity & Natural Resources at the University of Nairobi. He is passionate about working with communities on evidence-based conservation solutions in the Amboseli ecosystem and researching human–wildlife coexistence measures.