Born Free, Again - Page 2

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Zebras and wildebeest in Masai Mara, Kenya
WILDLIFE SPOTTING: Zebras and Wildebeest roam the Masai Mara  (Stephen Jermanok)

To truly appreciate the work of the FOC, you have to wander outside Olonana into a nearby Maasai village. Every one of A&K's trips includes such an outing, where participants gets a rare opportunity to see how these indigenous people live with relatively little means. It’s an eye-opening experience to not only walk into a small village of mud huts, but to witness the changes made this past decade with the support of the FOC. Not long ago, the Maasai people would hide poachers from park rangers and kill their fair share of animals for meat. Now Maasai children pick up snares used to snag wildlife as they walk to school. The FOC has succeeded in educating locals on the need for wildlife conservation and the importance of being stewards of the land by asking them to become partners in ecotourism and sharing the profits.

Traditional handicrafts like beadwork are passed down and then sold at markets on the outskirts of each circular homestead, where necklaces, headdresses, spears, and other Maasai wares are sold to the public. Some villagers work as beekeepers to create honey, also sold there. Each village still owns its flock of cattle, but now the people understand that there are other ways to earn their livelihood from the land. The most important task is teaching the Maasai to live in harmony with the wildlife.

"Seventy-five percent of the animals live outside the reserve boundaries in the greater Mara area," says Haji Ogle, director of the FOC, adding that "the wildlife can injure and kill people and can take their livestock."

To help limit conflict with wildlife, the FOC works hand-in-hand with the Maasai by building taller, more impenetrable fences around the village, encouraging the use of dogs in the corral to scare off cattle predators, and implementing a scout program that teaches older children to monitor the landscape. They learn which area of the bush is good for farming and which land is better left as elephant breeding grounds. The scouts then share their findings with their respective village once a week. Not surprisingly, the program has become a stepping stone to leadership in the community, as far more children now apply for the part-time scout positions than slots available.

After a 15-minute drive from Olonana, Chief Kipas Manie welcomes me to his village with a wide smile and the Maasai greeting, "Supa." He wears a royal blue shirt instead of the more vibrant red top that the Maasai normally don so lions can see them at a distance and not be startled. We walk under the high linked wooden fence into a homestead of small huts created by sticks, clay, and a roof of cow dung. Lately, the manure has provided another invaluable service, as an important source of energy.

Using 800 wheelbarrows of cow dung mixed with rainwater, the shrewd chief has created his own biogas plant to help fuel the huts. Pipes are connected from the circular well that goes down ten feet, providing the heat for cooking burners in the huts. Through this project, the FOC has been instrumental in providing an additional source of heat for the Maasai people to cook their food. With deforestation, older women have had to travel some three to four miles over the course of the day to find wood for their open fires. Now, through the use of clay stoves, which help to retain the heat, the proliferation of briquettes instead of wood, and biogas, the Maasai are slowly upgrading their lifestyle. The young saplings they plant nearby will not be needed as wood, and instead will one day shade their cattle, regulate water runoff, and provide medicinal benefits.

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