Man’s daring moves to save lions

By Metro Reporter
Have you ever wondered what names like Mase¬rie, Mapukori and others which sound similar mean in the Maasai dialect?
An advert in a radio station in Kenya recently troubled me so much. In the advert, I saw three Maasai morans, who were armed with machetes, bows and arrows confront about 10 lions feasting on a wild animal which they had killed snatch it from them.
The following day I met pho¬tographer Joseph Jamenya in Nai¬robi and we engaged in a debate on whether three Maasai morans can scare a battery of hungry lions that have just made a kill, and take away the meat.
After debating for close to an hour, we agreed to visit Amboseli National Park to discuss the mat¬ter further with game wardens. But before we reached there we decided to take a walk at a nearby Kimana township at the slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro on the border of Kenya and Tanzania.
At the town, we met Samuel Kaanki, a 38-year-old former Maasai moran, who works with Maasailand Preservation Trust in the Imbirikani area of the Kyulu region that neighbours Amboseli National Park.
After formal introductions, Kaanki suggested we sit some¬where and have a drink as he took us through what it entails to be a Maasai moran. We were later joined by his close associate and former colleague, Morinke Mase¬rie.
Mase¬rie and told us they worked together at Kimana Wildlife Sanctuary, which used to be a hive of tourism activities in the late 1990s and early 2000. Kaanki worked at the sanctuary as a waiter before being promoted to a barman, while Maserie was a game scout.
We took the opportu¬nity to ask them questions. Kaanki and Maserie were at ease taking us through what it entails to be a Maasai moran. As much as you may think, a moran is not just a graduate from “kehe”(uncircumcised) to circumcised man, but a re¬fined militant young Maasai who has undergone training of a military kind.
At between 18 and 20 years, Maasai boys undergo circumcision in a ceremo¬ny that has been sustained through many generations. The ceremony marks a pas¬sage to adulhood.
After circumcision, the initiates are taken to a seclud¬ed place in the forest where they undergo training on how to attack a perceived enemy.
It is a process to behold. After the initiates have healed they graduate to “spolio” (a stage in time when they have healed) before plaiting their hair and painting their bodies with special red soil mixed with cow or sheep fat from the tail.
At that stage, morans are taken into “barracks” (man¬yatas where elect their leaders who will design the make of flags they will retain to sym¬bolise their existence. In the barracks, they are taught how to fight intruders such as cat¬tle rustlers and lions.
It is during this period that the morans invade National Parks to hunt lions, their per¬ceived enemies and kill them to earn them names such as Masarie and Mapukori. Those are names that draw instant respect in the community.
Those associated with such names are not only re¬spected but also feared for their skills to kill lions with their bare hands. The trend of killing lions is what made Kaanki and Masarieto put their heads together and re-think how to change the at¬titude of the morans towards the big cats.
In 2004 Kaanki was in¬corporated in the Wildlife Consolation Committee at the Imbirikani Group Ranch on the slopes of Kyulu Hills and later made the chairman of the local advisory committee. The committee is entrusted assessing damages caused by wildlife in the southern game corridor.
The wildlife conservancy corridor that extends from the Tsavo National Park through the larger Amboseli eco¬system and to the northern route that extends to Nairobi National Park is managed by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and Friends of Wild¬life Conservancy in Kenya and abroad.
The KWS and their part¬ners in conservancy spend colossal amounts of money in paying damages occasioned by human/wildlife conflicts along the corridor.
Kaanki is the Liaison Of¬ficer at the Maasailand Pres¬ervation Trust (MPT). The MPT is charged with training morans to change their atti¬tude towards the big cats.
He remembers an inci¬dent where a battery of mo¬rans chased a lion that had at¬tacked a village in Imbirikani area of the larger Kajiado County killing two cows. The more than 20 men were armed to the tooth, but he rode his motorbike towards them and stood between the beast and the lips-biting morans in a bid to sweet-talk not to kill it.
The morans were not ready to listen to him while on the other side of the bush the lion was fully charged and ready to pounce on whoever went close to it.
He did his calculation and chose to chase the lion away.
The big cat fled leaving its saviour to the morans. He had to use all his wits to cool off the morans, who at some stage threatened to skin him alive.
Kaanki was swift; he bought three goats from a nearby manyata to cool their tempers. At the end of it all, he managed to save the big cat.
When he took over as Liaison Officer at MPT, the number of lions at Amboseli/Kyulu zone was 200, but to¬day the number has surpassed 1000.
Now the guardian of the lions has had talks with the country’s top 800 world re¬cord breaker, David Rudisha in a bid to organising athletics competitions for the morans as a way of engaging them in profitable activities other than killing the big cats.
He is also engaging the morans in activities such as managing cultural bomas for purposes of tourism. Kaanki has already trained 40 morans to take charge of preserving lions in Amboseli and he is proceeding to Kimana, Kuku, Rombo, Oloolorashi and Es¬elenkei group ranches to train youths on conservancy