Friday, April 3

A Walk in Nkueri Forest, Trans Mara

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The plains stretch out before us in the sunlight, recent showers and the air below the rainbow’s arch is golden, rich with petrichor – the smell of wet earth. This is what the Eurasian steppe must have been like in the medieval warm period when nomadic tribes still migrated and traded along it. Our own nomadic pastoralists are also beginning to settle down.
We leave the national park and visit the workings of the Anne K Taylor Fund which supports projects that aim to balance conservation and community development within the Maasai Mara ecosystem. As we walk around Nakueri forest, we are skipping over chopped wood and stepping through a great gap in the trees. They haven’t been pushed down by elephants. This new area has been demarcated for the use of the newly settled, younger Maasai population. The mud cob manyattas have been replaced by mabati – zinc roofs and lime plaster.
Only the young man’s stance gives him away, he leans on his stick as if he were about to spend a whole day out watching his flocks. He is a young Masai, but wears jeans and it is his boma we are walking around. His wife sits close by with five little children curious but huddled around her.
High bomas or enclosures are supplied by the Anne K Taylor project, who bear 70% of the cost, to protect livestock and reduce retaliatory killings of animals by humans. These are made of chain link to reduce the reliance on hardwoods such as the African olive which is traditionally used here. To stop honey badgers from digging into them, the fence goes into the ground for a foot and half.
As we step through the gap in the trees a great smouldering heap stands before us. It’s a charcoal kiln. And whilst it remains illegal to make charcoal it is not illegal to sell it or use it. And so, chopping down hardwood croton trees for charcoal remains a lucrative business.
Land here is being cleared for burning, agriculture, livestock and house building. There are no corridors left for the animals as all the land around here is fenced. Nakueri forest is an elephant maternity area and nursery. Recently an elephant was seen very distressed as it gave birth on the exposed plain, in full view of predators.
Whilst the Mau forests have gained attention as important water towers, there are many such as Nakueri that are being ignored.
We move along to the de-snaring unit. A large mkokoteni or cart stands before us, barbed wire hoops heaped over it. Some have coloured ribbons indicating ownership of the snare. The communities who come with their expertise in building, fencing and making charcoal also eat bushmeat which is taboo to the Maasai. We see a spear made from vandalised iron. A hippo can carry a poisoned spear for a few days and so it had a plastic bottle attached to it, to float above the river water, so that the animal can be tracked.
The good news is that the fund has managed to find the snares, treat injured animals and empower women by providing them with work which is not just traditional beading but also soap making and to build schools for the kids.

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