Trailblazing Maasai women, guardians of Kenya’s savannah

By Irene Escudero

Olgulului, Kenya, 1 Jun (efe-epa).- Vultures do not lie and the Maasai know only too well their presence means a dead animal is near.

Eunice Peneti, Sharon, Louise and Anastasia Sein’s mission is to get to the carcass before any traffickers and they head towards the scavenger birds circling in the sky.

An older Maasai woman warns them it is a wildebeest that has been hunted down by a lion.

The wildebeest is barely recognisable. Its bones have been gnawed with only the head and ribs left. The women spot footprints near a bush.

“It was three lions,” says one of them.

“There are two females and a male that have been roaming the area for a long time.”

The five young women make up Team Lioness, one of Kenya’s few female ranger brigades.

They patrol part of the 607 square kilometres of the Amboseli National Park, home to large elephant herds and crowned by Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa.

“In our Maasai community men see us like we don’t know anything,” Peneti, the oldest in the group at 28, tells Efe.

She says that in the traditionally patriarchal society men are amazed: “I fear this lady because if a poacher comes this girl can catch him.”

Peneti almost became a professional athlete but an injury last year pushed her to pursue her dream of caring for animals.

“Even if a buffalo comes we can run all ladies and leave the men behind,” she jokes.

Some 76 community rangers financed by the International Fund for Animal Welfare patrol the Olgulului ranch daily in khaki uniforms, boots and masks searching for illegal activities or injured animals.

When a dead animal is found they record the coordinates and document it in a daily report used to measure wildlife annually.

Unlike the Kenya Wildlife Services they are not armed but they work with KWS should a problem arise.

If they come across a lion they warn nearby communities so they can protect their livestock.

Conflict with Maasai herders has been one of the main threats to these predators.

Before the mediation and awareness work of rangers around 32 lions were killed yearly. The number has now dropped to around four.

According to Maasai tradition when one of these big cats killed a cow the herders had to hunt it down.

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