Climate change effects on Maasai communities

by | May 3, 2017

Climate change is threatening the livelihoods of thousands of Kenyans, and one of the hardest hit communities is the Maasai. Traditionally, the Maasai are herders, who keep large herds of cattle for subsistence. The Maasai are a Nilotic ethnic group of semi-nomadic people inhabiting southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. They are among the best-known local populations due to their residence near the many game parks and their preserved culture.


Since time immemorial, the Maasai have had rich indigenous knowledge about their environment and how to monitor and predict climate and seasonal cycles through observation of behavioral characteristics of biological components and other traditional, socio-cultural methods. They still use the same knowledge to model weather events and livelihood management. However unpredictable weather variations have become so common that drought that used to occur after some years is now occurring every two years or less, and the trend continues to worsen.


Due to changes in weather and rainfall patterns, water is becoming harder to find and in many places grass has stopped growing, leaving no food for the cattle. Cattle are the main source of food and income in this community, and they are not able to withstand longer drought. Many Maasai communities lose a lot of cattle, and have begun practicing early weaning of calves during persistent drought because cows cannot produce enough milk. During this time, the cows are weak and need to travel long distances in search for water and pasture. The beef cattle lose condition and produce less meat, therefore bringing less income.


As our Mobile Film Unit visits schools and communities, we emphasize to the communities the need of keeping smaller and therefore healthier cattle herds, and increasing sheep and goat flocks, as they require less grass to survive. Climate change is creating a need for a whole new perspective on livelihoods for the pastoralist societies.

The Tsavo West National Park is a section of one of the largest wildlife conservancies on the planet, as well as one of Kenya’s largest wildlife national parks. It is well-known for its resident population of Red Elephants as well as the tale of the Tsavo Man-eaters. Unfortunately, most of the communities bordering these parks have never had a chance to visit them due to the cost. For these reasons Amara organizes game drives with Purdue University students each year into Tsavo West National Park. We also encourage children to form Wildlife Clubs and embrace their wildlife and environment. This year Mrabenyi Secondary School in Taita Taveta County had the opportunity to tour the vast Park and interact with the University students from USA.


tHistorically, the Tsavo Area is renowned for the Man-eaters of Tsavo, two mane-less lions who developed a taste to prey on humans back in the early 1900’s (various reasons are cited for this, one recently being that they suffered from tooth decay and pain that made hunting difficult for them!). Although they were later shot, they killed many people that were constructing the railway line connecting Mombasa and Nairobi. Additionally, it was the main battlefield between the Germans and the Britons in Africa in the course of World War I. Currently the area is very peaceful and is now famous for its resident Red-colored Elephants, that enjoy dust-bathing in the red colored soil. The serene environment of Tsavo comes mainly with thorny bushland, open grasslands and among the most beautiful scenic areas are; the Yatta plateau, the World’s longest lava flow stretching 290km; Mzima springs; Shetani Lava Flow; Chaimu Hill; and Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary.

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