skip to Main Content
One Good One Bad Story Conservation

Conservation and human concerns: the forceful eviction of Maasai and how a community regrew its lost forest

  • Blog

With this week’s article, we wanted to take a close look at two contrasting stories, one good and one bad, which touch on the themes of government, human involvement in conservation and how we as a species stand to benefit from wildlife and wild spaces.

These two stories, both taken from East Africa, are drastically different. One is of a successfully implemented reforestation initiative. The other is about the forceful eviction of a community. Despite these obvious differences, the two stories live in similar worlds.

They both illustrate our influence on this world and its wild spaces. They both demonstrate human capacity for change and how, when it is bent to a certain direction it can have drastic affect. Furthermore, they both illustrate how correct management and the proper application of human capacity are essential to conservation.

We’ll start with the bad news.

Tanzania’s government is siding with a UAE firm in the forced eviction of Longoloi Maasai families

In January of 2022, the Tanzanian government doubled down on previously halted attempts to seize 1,500km² of land from Maasai pastoralists in Northern Tanzania.

More than 70,000 Maasai, ancestral residents of the Longoloi region of Northern Tanzania face eviction. The Tanzanian government want the Maasai off the land so that they can lease it to a UAE-based firm called Ortello. The Ortello Business Corporation (OBC) is alleged to be backed by the UAE’s ruling family and runs the country’s royal hunting excursions.

OBC will reportedly convert the land into a wildlife corridor and then control commercial hunting and tourism in the area. This is despite their involvement in past forceful evictions of the Maasai.

In fact, the Maasai of Loliondo have faced this exact threat before. Government-led forceful eviction attempts in 2009, 2013 and 2017 all met steadfast resistance from the Maasai that had called Loliondo home for generations.

In 2018, Maasai leaders in Loliondo appealed to the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) to address the issue. The EACJ granted an injunction in September of 2018, effectively prohibiting the Tanzanian government from any further actions that might be considered attempts to forcibly move the Loliondo Maasai on.

This year’s renewed attempt to seize the same land, spokespeople from the area argue, is a blatant violation of the 2018 injunction.

This story is jarring for a number of reasons. There are many of our readers who will find themselves dismayed at the Tanzanian government’s willingness to hand the land over to a company so obviously associated with big game hunting.

While we share our readers’ distaste for the practice of hunting wildlife, we must recognise that in Tanzania it is legal and, in recent years, has even been married to certain conservation-related success stories. As a result, we won’t consider this particular point in the framing of our concerns at this development south of the border.

What we do want to draw attention to is the great shame that is the break-down of communications, between government and its peoples, that has resulted in this latest land dispute.

The Great Lakes area of East Africa is considered home to some of the wildest spaces in the world. Wildlife has, in and around Kenya and Tanzania’s national parks, managed to maintain an existence that is as close to its organic form as the world can boast.

Many reasons are posited as to why Kenya and Tanzania have managed to preserve the true wilderness of their national parks. One that is considered vitally important is the effective stewardship of the Maasai that live in and around these wild spaces. Maasai have lived in East Africa’s wild spaces for longer than any records can accurately attest to. Over that time, wildlife has thrived.

Unlike in many of the other wild spaces that have had to play host to both humans and wildlife, the Maasai have managed to cohabit with their neighbours. There wouldn’t be a Longoloi to offer up to Emirati royals for their hunting if the Maasai hadn’t treated it as well as they have under their stewardship.

Granted, the times have changed and increasingly we find that the pastoralists of eastern Africa are shifting away from some of their traditions. The Maasai, very generally speaking, are no longer so averse to cultivation and with this change in behaviour has come the privatisation of land. Add to this that population increase is putting pressure on emerging systems of land ownership and certainly the situation becomes complex.

However, the Maasai have done something few other human societies have managed. They have existed within an ecosystem instead of choosing to dominate it. They have protected lands that are, today, the jewel in the crown of what wild spaces the earth has left.

That the Tanzanian government has resorted to such an antagonistic stance with regarding the treatment of these great stewards of the savannah is an incredible shame and something we hope the EACJ helps to mediate toward a peaceable conclusion that better represents the Maasai legacy in Longoloi.

A community in western Kenya regrows its forest in what is considered a great success for community conservation

In stark contrast to the messy situation embroiling Tanzanian people and their government, we have decided to report on an incredible regeneration project embarked upon by a village in Western Kenya.

As a result of logging and the felling of trees for charcoal creation, Mirema Forest, in Migori County, was, five years ago, reduced quite pitifully from former glories. The 2,000 acre site that used to be home to a forest-ful of trees was so deforested that the site’s neighbours found their homes at serious risk of flooding whenever the rains came.

When the long rains came, floods would course through the streams that ran through what was once Mirema Forest. The high waters would destroy crops and even homes, making the area a difficult one to live in. This had not been a problem in the area in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

Members of the community inhabiting around Mirema Forest remembered that these issues were not always so threatening.

A few enterprising individuals entered into a reforestation project in order to counteract the affects of the frequent flooding. Since 2018, the Mirema initiative, entirely community-led, has planted 300,000 trees and completely changed the area.

Today, the Mirema Forest rehabilitation project has Kenya Forest Service support. At it’s beginning, however, it was the work of invested, hard-working and intelligent local actors. Since the KFS have offered their support, they’ve commented on the extraordinary work done by the Mirema volunteers.

According to a KFS ranger, most reforestation drives have a 50% survival rate for replanted trees. The Mirema project has a 70% survival rate. This success has attracted national government attention. Some 1,000 acres of forest has been regenerated and, according to local inhabitants, the threat of flooding has drastically decreased.

Since KFS involvement, the project has been accelerated. This story, so contrasting to our first, highlights the strength of human beings when they choose, and are able to, work together.

 

These two stories highlight how important human communities are in the protection of the earth’s wild areas. We have always endeavoured to work alongside human neighbours while we protect the animals under our supervision. We will continue to do so and, to recognise the incredible people that have helped us so far, we just wanted to thank all the people we regularly interact with here in the TCA. 

A big thank you to our brilliant neighbours!

Back To Top