Hi I’m Heather, a recent MSc Conservation Science graduate from Imperial College London.
Back in April, as part of my studies and thanks to a generous Studentship from Chester Zoo, I embarked on a six-month research project evaluating the success of Warrior Watch; an exciting participatory monitoring and awareness raising initiative launched by the Ewaso Lions Project in the Samburu region of northern Kenya.
Warrior Watch targets the Samburu warrior (or moran), a traditionally neglected demographic typically implicated in human-wildlife conflict, and encourages selected individuals to become active within their region as ambassadors for wildlife. Here, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Chester Zoo for their support and tell you a little more about the programme and my research...
It’s Sunday… a pheasant feather pokes me in the eye as the warrior - to whom said feather is attached - raises his head from his scrabble tiles neatly arranged to spell out “striped hyaena”. “Sawa?” he asks, to which I reply “Ndio” and give the universally understood ‘thumbs-up’ gesture.
Despite our limited conversational abilities his passion both for learning and for wildlife is clear, infectious even. His name is Reria and he is one of fifteen Warrior Watch warriors. He and his fellow participants are not just learning how to spell animal names but they are taught about everything from wildlife conservation through to security.
There is a big emphasis placed on predators and addressing human-wildlife conflict. With predators partial to the odd goat or cow, such conflict not only threatens the livelihoods of local people who depend on livestock, but the survival of the regions large carnivores who might then become the targets of retaliatory persecution.
By using these warriors to spread the conservation message far and wide, Warrior Watch seeks to engender a positive conservation ethic within the whole community. In return for their efforts participants are provided with a small food stipend and – most exciting for them in a region where the overwhelming majority are non-literate – a free education!
So where does my research fit in? Well, we decided it was time we examined how effective the programme has been to ensure limited funds are being spent wisely and to justify launching Warrior Watch in neighbouring Conservancies.
I trained two research assistants – Ngila and Jeneria – to help me determine the effect, if any, Warrior Watch has had in Westgate Conservancy, where Warrior Watch launched in January 2010. 162 questionnaires; 10 focus group discussions; 7 Venn diagram mapping exercises; 5 community quizzes; countless hours in front of the computer and 80 days of bucket showers and meals of rice and beans later… and the results look incredibly encouraging.
Warrior Watch has undoubtedly had a positive impact on attitudes and intentions towards wildlife conservation – an encouragingly high proportion stating that now they would never retaliate regardless of the number of livestock a predator consumed.Why? Mostly, because the warriors have taught them the benefits of having wildlife in their Conservancy and ways to reduce conflict (e.g. using scarecrows, guard dogs and tightly fenced enclosures).
Interestingly, many also said they would not hurt a wild dog because there is a belief in Samburu culture that if you kill a wild dog you will never be blessed with a son! I also found it incredibly heartening to learn how Warrior Watch has helped empower warriors; giving them a voice in conservation decision-making and promoting cooperation within the Conservancy. One elder told us, “Warriors from the community are more respected due to Warrior Watch …[it] has changed warriors; people used to think they were criminal subjects in society”.
In stark contrast, surveys conducted in a neighbouring Conservancy - where Warrior Watch does not yet operate - highlighted serious concerns for long-term carnivore conservation within the region; with poor tolerance for all predators and some warriors even openly admitted to poisoning predators in response to livestock depredation.
Will Warrior Watch expanding here have the same positive impact it has in Westgate? …time will tell, but the evidence from this study is very encouraging and is currently being used to lever additional funds to expand the programme.
The ultimate goal: to one day have a network of warriors working across the region to secure a future for Samburu’s incredible wildlife alongside its people, the most welcoming community I have had the pleasure of encountering!
I am Heather Gurd, MSc. Conservation Science, Imperial College London and I Act for Wildlife.
This study was conducted under the supervision of Prof. E.J. Milner-Gulland (ICL) and Shivani Bhalla (Ewaso Lions).