Predator-Proof Bomas – A new dimension in human-wildlife conflict resolution

As the sun sets in the Maasai Mara, Narok County, neighbouring herders usher their livestock to the bomas (livestock enclosures) for the night. For Joshua Salaash the experience is different today – Joshua is leading his herd of cattle into a newly constructed eco-friendly and secure predator-proof boma.

In March 2020, Joshua lost six sheep to a lion attack at night. Before the construction of the new boma, the return of livestock each evening marked the beginning of a long restless night of listening for any commotion and shooing away predators.

“The possibility of losing livestock to a lion or a hyena was very high back then. My old boma was not strong to prevent attacks. It had many loopholes that made it easy for predators to breach and prey on my livestock. With this new shed boma, I can sleep more comfortably,” says the 37-year-old.

Maasai Mara is a human-wildlife conflict-prone area because of the proximity of human settlement to wildlife conservancies. Humans, livestock, and wildlife share the same space. Most conservancies are vast and not fenced, leaving wild animals free to roam, occasionally straying into villages and attacking livestock. Most herders in the Mara ecosystem say they have had their livestock preyed on by wildlife several times.

Wildlife attacks on livestock result in retaliatory assaults most of the time. Affected herders hit back by poisoning carcasses of sheep, goats, or cattle with pesticides. The poison is aimed at the predator, but it kills non-target species such as vultures in the process. In Kenya, these poisoning incidents are responsible for 60 percent of vulture mortality.

Conservation organizations working in the Mara ecosystem have devised new tactics to reduce human-wildlife conflicts in the area. Construction of the predator-proof bomas is one such intervention. Nature Kenya has partnered with the Mara Predators Conservation Programme to construct five predator-proof bomas in the Maasai Mara ecosystem.

The selection of five predator-proof bomas beneficiaries was conducted in June 2020. Officers from Nature Kenya and the Mara Predators Conservation Programme met with representatives from conservancies, the local administration, and local communities. The five beneficiaries were chosen based on the history of wildlife attacks, proximity to human-wildlife conflict hotspots, and assurance of permanent residence in their respective areas.

“Human-wildlife conflict issues are sensitive because they touch on the livelihoods of the affected herders. We had to carefully select beneficiaries to best bring out the advantages of this new initiative to the communities as part of solving human-wildlife conflict,” says Simon Shati, a Vulture Liaison Officer working for Nature Kenya.

The predator-proof bomas are constructed using recycled plastic poles that are surrounded by triple-twist chain link and barbed wire. A steel gate is installed to control livestock entry and exit. The boma is impenetrable for large carnivores as it is sealed all round. The recycled plastic and corner metal poles are sunk two feet deep into the ground. Their pits are filled with mortar to make them stable.

“The poles are high, standing at about two metres tall, which is high for a predator to scale up,” says Simon.

One boma can comfortably hold a herd of 700. Simon says that in addition to being made from a material that can withstand harsh weather and pests like termites, the herders do not need to cut down any trees.

Already the effectiveness of the bomas has been tested unintentionally by recent attacks. In the small village of Oloolchuura, sandwiched between two conservancies and the Maasai Mara Reserve, Siloma Ole Reiya considers himself a lucky man. On one corner of his shed boma the wire mesh is slightly deformed outwards following a commotion by cows. The deformity is proof of the events of the night of July 7, 2020 when a pride of lions unsuccessfully attempted to break into the predator-proof boma.

“I would be counting it as my fourth loss of animals this year were it not for this new shed. The layers of chain-link and barbed wire made it impossible for the lions to come close to the herd. Thankfully I was also able to scare the pride away in good time,” says Siloma.

A few kilometers away in Ingila village, Letutuk Tira’s homestead is not easy to miss; it is surrounded Naboisho and Olare Motorogi conservancies and the Mara Reserve. For Letutuk, predator attacks are a common phenomenon. Letutuk is another beneficiary, and his account of a July 14, 2020 attack reads like a scene from a movie:

“The big cat pounced on my motorbike, damaging the headlight, before attempting to enter the locked shed. I fled from the scene and I must say I am fortunate to be alive and for my animals to be safe,” says Letutuk.

The improved bomas are one among many projects aimed at reducing the cases of predation of livestock by wildlife. Nature Kenya has since 2018 been working with the Maasai Mara Wildlife Ambassadors, the Maasai Mara Important Bird Area (IBA) site support group (SSG), to create awareness about wildlife poisoning and its consequences. The group conducts market and village outreaches, using traditional dances and other forms of performing arts to spread conservation messages. Nature Kenya has recruited “vulture volunteers” who are members of local communities engaged in vulture conservation activities. All these efforts are geared towards helping communities to take up better human-wildlife conflict prevention mechanisms.

There are prospects of expanding this project to other areas within the Mara Ecosystem, and to Kajiado County in the coming months.