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CONSERVATION

PASTORALISM

Bridging the Knowledge Gap between Herders and Ecologists As the intrinsic value of traditional herding knowledge finally dawns on the research community, giving back to local communities must be prioritized in the pursuit of boosting biodiversity.

Even in the outskirts of sprawling, cosmopolitan Nairobi, Maasai herders can be spotted with their herds of cattle or goats. Draped in traditional plaid shuka, the sight may seem a bit anachronistic against the backdrop of roads, high-rise buildings, and tidy lawns. Driving up Mombasa Road, or in the posh neighbourhood of Karen, one had better be prepared to stop for real-life animal crossings.

Pastoralism, the practice of keeping livestock, dates back to Neolithic times. It is a universal practice that spans all corners of the world, from reindeer herders in icy Lapland and Siberia to cattle ranchers in rural California, yet shaped regionally by landscape and cultural variances.

The rangelands used by pastoralists are often land unsuitable for conventional agriculture. Man-made pressures range from land management disputes, sedentarization, industrial encroachment and institutional burdens, while environmental causes stem from increased climate variability that alters grasslands. Despite, or perhaps because of, the growing number of constraints on pasture land and herder autonomy, pastoralists remain adaptive.

Neil Stronach, an ecological consultant who grew up in Tanzania, points out that cattle are still a sign of wealth amongst the Maasai. Cattle dictate a young warrior’s eligibility, yet there are increasing expectations to capitalize on their herds far beyond traditional subsistence livelihoods. There is the pressure to buy cars, build houses and go to school. Stronach explains how intertribal politics,

BELOW Maasai boy taking their herd home, just kilometers away from the main gate of Amboseli National Park.

APRIL - JUNE 2022 | 21

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