[Homestead] Human overpopulation

Tvoivozhd tvoivozd at infionline.net
Wed Sep 22 21:32:19 EDT 2004

Places all other species at risk.  Even the Masai, whose numbers were in 
balance with the plant and wild animal environment for millenia, now try 
to expand their herds into areas  which are the last refuge of ages-old 
The New York Times

          September 22, 2004


    Masai, Whites and Wildlife: No Peaceable Kingdom


LAIKIPIA, Kenya - The view from above explains why this rugged area of 
Kenya has a problem on its hands.

As far as the eye can see there is wilderness: trees and scrub and, 
roaming between thickets, elephants, antelope and giraffes, not to speak 
of endangered species like the black rhino. But then, interrupting the 
National Geographic vistas, one spots a fence, a long straight one that 
goes on for miles and miles.

On the other side of the fence, the landscape changes abruptly. Much of 
the vegetation is gone. Wild animals are nowhere to be found, although 
one can spot herds of cows, goats and sheep roaming about. Their heads 
point constantly to the dry earth, as they scrounge for nourishment.

The herds belong to Masai tribesmen, and they are far too large for the 
land available. One result is a barren landscape, overgrazed and 
unhealthy, and certainly no place of refuge for Africa's endangered 
species. Recently, though, herders have begun cutting the fences that 
crisscross central Kenya's Laikipia district and marching their 
livestock onto the private land inside.

On the other side of those fences is another form of endangered species, 
the white settler. One settler is Kuki Gallman, an Italian by birth who 
moved to Kenya 30 years ago with her husband and later became a Kenyan 
citizen. She has chronicled her life in a series of books, including "I 
Dreamed of Africa,'' which became a movie featuring Kim Basinger as Ms. 

Ms. Gallman is one of several dozen white ranchers in Laikipia with 
combined holdings that stretch far and wide. Her ranch, Ol Ari Nyiro, 
sprawls over 100,000 acres just north of the equator, and boasts the 
largest population of black rhinos outside a national park.

Conservationists at Ms. Gallman's ranch and at others across Laikipia 
are hard at work trying to preserve the rhino and the other animal 
rarities of the area, like the Grevy's zebra and the reticulated 
giraffe. But the Masai are intent on moving them to a different habitat, 
which could threaten the animals' survival.

The Masai say Laikipia was stolen from their ancestors a century ago in 
a colonial-era treaty between a Masai leader and the British that 
transferred the land from the Masai to the whites. They say that the 
document is now out of date and that the vast ranches of Laikipia owned 
by whites are now officially a part of Masailand.

Inside the ranch houses there is anger at the destruction of the private 
lands and fear that the conflict could sharpen. But there is also some 
sympathy for the plight of the Masai and a bit of resignation that this 
wonderful way of life might not last as long as their leases, some of 
which extend in excess of 900 years.

"I'm sympathetic to them,'' said Laria Grant, 32, whose father bought a 
14,000-acre cattle ranch known as El Karama around the time of 
independence in 1963. "I know how it would feel if I were them, even 100 
years later. To me, it's not the exact details of the lease that's the 
issue. It's about land and their feelings toward it. They're poor and 
can see our huge acreage of beautiful grass across the fence. But we 
feel as strongly about this land as they do.''

The Masai refer to the settlers as "mzungus,'' the Swahili term for 
white people or foreigners. But most of the white landholders are Kenyan 
citizens, albeit not with ties to the country that stretch back as long 
as those of the Masai.

"I'm as much a Kenyan as they are,'' said Martin Evans, a white rancher 
who has cattle, sheep, goats and camels on his 30,000 acres. "My dad was 
born here and I was born here and my sons were born here, too. I'm as 
Kenyan as anyone else.''

Laikipia, despite its tranquil appearance, is full of conflict. There is 
the natural kind that is occurring in the bush, with predators stalking 
and chasing and devouring their prey. And there is the human conflict 
between those who are trying to live off the semiarid land and those who 
want it to remain untouched, wild and well stocked with animals.

The latest clash between cattle herders and settlers has novel elements. 
On the side of the ranchers is Kenya's government, which has arrested 
trespassers by the score and stationed police officers on white-owned 
property to keep future invaders away. The government says that a 
Zimbabwe-type situation, in which whites were ousted from their land, 
would be an economic disaster. Instead, Kenya is studying its land use 
and limiting the length of leases, a go-slow approach aimed at 
respecting property rights.

Some of the white settlers use the land to support their own livestock 
businesses. Others, though, hold onto the land primarily for its beauty, 
earning a living by luring tourists to an unspoiled spot of Africa. 
There are more wild animals on private land in Kenya than in the many 
national parks, and preserving rare species means finding a way of 
keeping those animals alive. To do a comprehensive job of conserving 
Africa's wildlife, the white settlers say, attention has to be paid to 
private lands as well as public.

But the Masai insist that some attention be paid to them, and their herds.

"My heart is at peace,'' said Ms. Gallman, who has not had any clashes 
with the Masai and hopes her property will be spared. "My conscience is 
clear. I don't think I've muscled myself into anywhere at the detriment 
of the local community.''

Ms. Gallman and other landholders say they contribute much to Kenya as 
well as to the local population. There are the salaries they pay their 
staff, which in Ms. Gallman's case numbers about 200. There are the 
community outreach programs they have begun, like the scholarship 
program set up by a rancher, Michael Dyer, for Masai youth and the 
Masai-run tourist lodge. And there is the conservation they engage in, 
the landholders say, by fencing their property or just by keeping it 

"I'm a curator of a living museum,'' said Ms. Gallman, who brings 
schoolchildren from around the world to her property. "Nature here is so 
majestic. The world will need places like this more and more in the 
future. They are impossible to reconstruct once they're gone. My dream 
for the future is just that this place will remain whole.''

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