- To Americans raised on the lore of the Old West, the task
of a University of California, Berkeley, wildlife specialist
looks like a mission impossible: to help ranchers in Kenya
save the animals that are killing their cattle and sheep.
is the aim of Laurence Frank, research associate at UC Berkeley's
Field Station for Behavioral Research.
next week (Monday, May 15) for his third year in the Laikipia
region of Kenya where he leads a pioneering effort to make
peace between wild carnivores and the livestock who graze
over a one-million-acre region in the shadow of Mt. Kenya.
American cattlemen who once shot every carnivore in sight,
the Laikipia ranchers not only have hung up their rifles,
but they are actively engaged in helping Frank track and observe
big predators. They even encourage native wildlife by grazing
their herds on the land lightly, so that some food is left
for wild animals.
ranch owners are incredible," said Frank, who has been a researcher
with a hyena colony at the UC Berkeley field station. "They
take huge losses in order not to wipe out the predators. We
couldn't do this project without them."
to Frank's survey of ranches in the Laikipia region, the average
commercial ranch loses approximately $11,000 per year to predators,
not just from killed livestock but from efforts to prevent
attacks. That adds up to an average of seven and a half cattle,
20 sheep and one camel per year killed just by lions on each
ranch, said Frank. He and his colleagues are studying seven
other predator species in the region: cheetahs, leopards,
wild dogs, two species of hyenas, jackals and the bat-eared
wildlife is increasing in Laikipia, the only place in Kenya
where numbers are growing. The ranchers have been able to
protect their black rhinoceroses, and even the highly endangered
African wild dog is coming back, years after being exterminated
in the wild. A new pack has just established itself in the
Laipikia Predator Project is one of a few projects in the
world, and the only one in Africa, aimed at preserving predators
on ranchland. Other efforts are being made to preserve jaguars
on Latin American ranches and tigers in Asia.
in Africa has ever looked at the relationship between carnivores
and livestock, except for one study of cheetahs," said Frank.
the attention is paid to preserving large animals in parks.
But it is apparent to wildlife conservationists that protecting
animals within parks is not enough," he said. "Eventually
they will disappear if they are not protected outside the
animal sticks his nose outside the park, he is likely to get
shot or hit by a car. If an epidemic or severe drought comes
along, that whole population is finished, unless you can recolonize
the park from the outside."
Frank has been able to get a rough estimate of the number
of carnivores in the area -about 1,200 - and has placed radio-tracking
collars on 40 of them. Following the animals by air, with
planes piloted by the ranchers, Frank has discovered that
the carnivores are highly dependent on the commercial ranches.
They wander from ranch to ranch, but don't leave the ones
that are predator-friendly. Some of the lions, each wandering
over 40 to 300 square miles, also are threatened by rabies
and other diseases. This summer, Frank will have his own plane,
a Cessna 182 supplied by an Austrian couple who volunteer
as pilots on the project.
critical work is focused on developing methods that prevent
attacks on livestock. Frank's Kenyan student, Mordecai Ogada,
has found, for instance, that the thickness of the "bomas"
- corrals made of thornbush - may be key to maintaining the
peace. The bomas need to be strong enough to prevent cattle
that are panicked by lions from storming out of the corrals
where they become vulnerable to the predators.
for conservation efforts, traditional African husbandry has
evolved in response to constant predator pressure and cattle
theft. Rather than being allowed to wander widely, as in the
American West, cattle are kept in tight herds and watched
constantly. At night they are put into the makeshift corrals
which protect the livestock - if they can be prevented from
of the more unusual findings, a local ranch manager discovered
that lions, prevented from seeing sheep inside a corral bounded
by only wire and burlap, simply walked away from the livestock.
More research is needed, but the possibility that lions depend
heavily on eyesight alone for predation is surprising, said
using Laikipia as a laboratory to study conservation methods
that can be applied throughout Africa," said Frank, whose
research is supported by several conservation groups and the
National Cancer Institute. The project also is studying feline
immunodeficiency virus, an analog of HIV that is found in
wild cats and hyenas.
the aim is to improve conditions for ecotourism and sport
hunting, on the premise that unless people, especially poor
African herders, can make money from wildlife, the animals
are a liability and will be eliminated.
that kills your cattle or an elephant that tramples your crops
is a huge liability," said Frank. "But if you can attract
visitors willing to pay thousands of dollars to see the animals,
or tens of thousands to shoot one, they quickly become an
may not appeal to many people, but the alternative, said Frank,
"is to turn the whole thing into farmland."