Hunting Practices and Environmental Impacts

Fire Movement-Control Technique

Loliondo Game Controlled Area’s proximity to Serengeti National Park was not lost on Brigadier Al Ali in his quest for long-term hunting interests in Loliondo. He clearly points this out in his proposal to the government:

Loliondo is to the east side of Serengeti National Park, which makes it an important dispersal area for the Serengeti wildebeest and zebra migration, as well as a holding area important to the resident population of wildlife.

Ten years later, it has become evident that OBC had a long-term agenda for exploiting the high concentration of wildlife in Loliondo. OBC’s hunting operations are guaranteed by the continuous flow of wildlife from the Serengeti National Park, Maasai Mara, and surrounding areas. According to a 1994 report of the International Union for Nature Conservancy (IUCN) on Serengeti National Park, OBC "was taking advantage of migratory patterns of wildlife coming out of Serengeti National Park." The report has repeatedly been corroborated by the Maasai who say they witness on a daily basis OBC’s unabated exploitation of wildlife.

According to residents of Loliondo, OBC illegally uses fire to control the movement of wildlife within and around the Loliondo hunting concession. Additionally, during the peak hunting season, OBC often restricts Maasai access to pasturelands in the northwestern part of LGCA and at the common border known as the "triangle point," where the Serengeti, Maasai Mara, and LGCA borderlines meet.

MERC learned that fires are usually started at the beginning of the prime hunting season, between June and December, to coincide with the great ungulate migration–wildebeests, zebras, elands, hartebeests, giraffes, buffaloes and plains game. Park authorities from Maasai Mara Game Reserve, Serengeti National Park, and TANAPA confirmed to MERC that OBC ignites fires along the common border area to prevent animals from crossing into Kenya, where commercial hunting is banned, and instead forces them to retreat to hunting blocks. A long stretch of fire is usually started on the northern end of the hunting concession area to delay the crossing, creating high concentrations of wildlife in Loliondo and the northeast section of Serengeti. Since so much resident wildlife has already been killed and captured, this artificially created abundance of animals is said to have become the most important factor in OBC’s hunting operations. These large numbers of animals make hunting very easy for OBC and it’s guests.

The halted migration of large herds of plains game also attracts increased numbers of carnivores–lions, cheetahs, leopards, hyenas, hunting dogs and jackals. This provides OBC with an opportunity to capture large cats–particularly the much favored lion, cheetah, and leopard–and transport them to UAE. According to some OBC workers, at least 70 lions, 28 cheetahs, and 17 leopards were captured and transported to UAE between June and December of 2000, while an estimated 23 lions were killed after they were discovered to be either in poor health or relatively old. One of the victims of these killings was a male lion that was considered unfit because it had sustained serious injuries from another lion during a territorial fight.

Once the fires have subsided and new vegetation emerges, some animals choose to remain in Loliondo for greener pastures. A continuous supply of wildlife for hunting and live capture is thus assured until the next migration season.

MERC associates in the area in 2001 witnessed widespread use of fire from mid-June to late July. In an effort to avoid fires spreading along the north-to-northeastern part of LGCA, ungulate herds in Loliondo ready to cross into Maasai Mara in mid-June retreated southward before re-entering the Serengeti National Park. The animals did not cross into Maasai Mara until late July through early August and were eventually forced to change their point of entry by retreating into Serengeti and entering Maasai Mara from near the Sand River border gate. According to Maasai Mara officials, such interference causes congestion problems that negatively impact the area’s vegetation. The officials expressed very serious concerns over current methods of wildlife hunting in Tanzania, which clearly violates international legal instruments, in particular, the Bonn Convention on Conservation of Migratory Species of Animals of 1979, to which both Tanzania and Kenya are signatories. They observed that the management of the Maasai Mara Game Reserve could not try to seek a solution to this problem because it was beyond the scope of its mandate. Rather, according to one official, "the Kenyan government and international community should take an interest and seek an urgent solution before the region’s wildlife is completely depleted."

It is worth pointing out that as a result of this work, the government of Kenya has taken an interest in the matter and is now planning to petition the East African Community, a new economic block for Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, to intervene over OBC’s operations. Troubled by the recent revelations of OBC activities, Joe Kioko, the Kenya Wildlife Service Director, told the East African on February 18, 2002 that there was "need to harmonize wildlife conservation in areas that run astride our common border; and in order to protect the migratory species shared by the two countries."

Bait and Capture Operations

Baiting is a hunting practice that circumvents the need for long searches for wildlife, especially big cats (lion, leopard, and cheetah), and hyenas. A common form of baiting used by tourist hunters entails using carcasses to lure animals into traps. In Loliondo, the scenario is a bit more complicated. In addition to carcasses, OBC reportedly digs artificial watering holes and small dams to lure large numbers of mammals and even birds for easy shooting. Many residents contend that OBC’s hunting is killing such a large number of animals that the company deliberately sets up salt-licks and pumps water to lure wildlife from the Serengeti and other areas. They believe that, whereas the negative impacts of OBC’s hunting on wildebeest and zebra might not be detectable immediately because of their large numbers, Thompson gazelle, impala, giraffe, hartebeest, topi, and buffalo populations may have long been destabilized.

According to Loliondo residents, OBC relies heavily on small dams during the dry season to entice large numbers of thirsty animals. Local guides keep watch and radio to OBC when animals head in the direction of the dams. The hunters rush, take cover before the animals arrive, and then strike with machine guns. According to Mr. Tino Colombo, a former manager at Kleins Camp who was expelled from the country for complaining about OBC, the company uses this practice to hunt species, including wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, impala, waterbuck, and topi, that move in large numbers and exhibit certain predictable feeding and drinking habits. Three Maasai guides working for OBC confirmed this, telling MERC on August 10, 2001 that luring operations are often successful because animals are caught unaware and are shot at close range with automatic guns. They said that hardly a day passes without at least 15–and sometimes up to 45–animals being captured or killed, and referred to the area as "the killing fields of Loliondo." They also recalled an incident in early July 2001 when a hunting expedition of five people ambushed a herd of animals trying to drink water from a small natural dam at Oltigomi area (roughly 15 kilometers northwest of Kleins Camp) and killed ten wildebeests and five zebras using AK-47s. The guides said the killing was indiscriminate–among those killed were the very young, the very old, pregnant females, as well as healthy males and females.

Throughout the northern part of LGCA, MERC saw spent bullet cartridges indicative of a high level of hunting activity. Law enforcement officials in Maasai Mara told MERC that the bullets were 34-caliber, used for close ranging shooting at animals as large as buffalo.

Night Hunting

Night hunting is not a new practice in the world of hunting, but it is gaining popularity in some parts of Tanzania. In Loliondo, MERC learned that OBC uses powerful spotlights mounted on vehicles to locate animals at night. Blinded and confused, animals stagger in front of vehicles, making them easy targets. This appears to be an exercise in shooting for fun or practice rather than trophy hunting. According to the Maasai, including former OBC laborers employed during night hunts, this is popular among OBC’s guests because they get to shoot animals at close range surrounded by darkness. Of this, the Journalists Environmental Association of Tanzania (JET) said: "JET is informed that there is haphazard killing of wild animals in the area by using remote sensing techniques at night."

Other OBC Practices and Their Impact

on Wildlife and the Environment

According to a UN Environmental Program-World Conservation Monitoring Center report about the Serengeti National Park, "A controversial hunting lease to the Loliondo Game Control Area next to the park was granted to a Brigadier of the Dubai Army. The lease is an exclusive permit for ten years and takes advantage of the migratory patterns of wildlife coming out of the park. Reports received from the first hunting season noted the indiscriminate use of machine guns and the taking of non-game species and it is feared that the concession has had a severe impact on wildlife in the area."

Numerous Maasai, park officials, NGOs, and non-consumptive tourism companies reported the wanton killing of wildlife in LGCA. Although Tanzanian law only allows tourist hunters to kill males who are no longer active reproductively, OBC personnel and guests reportedly shoot and capture animals young and old, male and female, lactating and pregnant. Some of the species that the Maasai say they have seen captured include: lion, leopard, cheetah, impala, baboon, velvet monkey, gerenuk, giraffe, hyena, warthog, and bird species, particularly ostrich. In some cases, dead animals are transported in lorries to nearby non-Maasai communities and sold as bush meat, potentially encouraging poaching and an illegal market for such meat. (Maasai do not eat wild game.) Tanzanian law forbids foreign tourist hunting companies from utilizing game for commercial purposes.

OBC has built a three-kilometer all-weather airstrip in LGCA believed to seriously harm the seasonal migration of wildlife between the Serengeti and Maasai Mara. The Tanzanian Association of Environmental Journalists (JET) has questioned "the motive of constructing an airstrip in a game controlled area and an important migratory route for wild animals." MERC witnessed use of the airstrip by UAE military aircraft.

Many Maasai reported repeatedly witnessing larger-sized animals, such as eland, buffalo, giraffe, zebra, and waterbuck, shot with tranquilizers, loaded onto red trucks, transported to OBC camps, and then held until planes fly them elsewhere, presumably to the Middle East. If the tranquilized animal is found to be old or unhealthy, Maasai on numerous occasions have witnessed OBC employees rain bullets into its body. By Maasai rough estimates, from 40 to 100 animals are flown out of the country on a weekly basis. Several workers said that OBC justifies the airlifting of such large numbers of wild animals, saying, "a lot of these animals die on the way because of stress associated with poor transport procedures." This situation was described by three OBC employees as follows: "…the cage might be too small for the animal but we squeeze it in anyway. We do not know of any person involved in this operation–either loaders or supervisors–who is a professional in any way–some of them are handling a wild animal for the first time in their life." They further pointed out that, based on information from their colleagues involved in the dispatch of animals, there were reports of certain species being more likely to die of such causes than others: the impala, zebra, eland, giraffe and ostriches were particularly vulnerable.

OBC has set up several campsites throughout LGCA. According to some Maasai staff at the camps, captured animals are airlifted one or two times per week. Large military and other planes containing weapons, communication gear, motor vehicles, and other hunting paraphernalia often fly into Loliondo on Tuesdays and Saturdays. After loading, the planes may go through Kilimanjaro International Airport or directly to UAE. According to JET and the Maasai, regardless of the port of exit, the planes are not subject to inspection. Hunting trophies and meat are apparently airlifted together with live animals. Referring to this practice, JET has said it is " surprised why the government is not monitoring flights which take away live animals from Loliondo wildlife enclave to the United Arab Emirates."

The East African reported that Kenya could lose vast sums of money in tourism dollars because of the depletion of wildlife along the border and in Maasai Mara. The same animals protected in Kenya are shot along their migratory route in LGCA. OBC’s hunting operations also go beyond the confines of LGCA. There are numerous accounts of hunting within the common border and inside Maasai Mara Game Reserve, a clear violation of international boundaries.

In addition to the very serious decline in absolute numbers of animals, some with whom MERC spoke voiced great concern about the degeneration of the genetic lines of certain species. Since hunters target prime, alpha males, genetically inferior males who ordinarily would not reproduce are able to breed, resulting in less than optimum lines of offspring. Because of their territorial nature, this is a particular problem for the lions of Loliondo.

There are also fears that the large-scale hunting of prey has caused predators to turn to domestic animals for food, thus increasing human-animal conflict. Maasai in Ololosokwuan, Kuka, Oltigomi, Olgayanet, Olosira Lukunya, and neighboring areas narrated deadly incidents of lion attacks on livestock and people. Although lions have attacked humans and livestock since time immemorial, the frequency and degree of viciousness of the attacks is reaching worrying proportions. The Maasai believe that this problem is associated with years of being hunted and diminishing wildlife, both of which have forced the lions to adapt for their own survival. A Maasai elder told MERC at Oiborr Motonyi, north of Ololosokuwan village: " You have to remember that some of these lions have been wounded or escaped capture attempts. As such, their survival instincts will remain alive for a long time to come. They will attack anytime they see a person. But I guess this is a remote thing for those who do not live with the lions in the savannahs to comprehend. But it is reality to us."

OBC has detrimentally impacted the environment in a number of other ways. The company has built a large warehouse at the source of the Olosai River, which is widely believed to interfere with the water supply to both communities and wildlife. The felling of trees is also harming water sources. Furthermore, MERC observed a broken borehole that OBC had drilled next to a cattle dip at Ole Polos village, 100 kilometers north of Loliondo town. This combination could lead to chemical leakage from the dip to the water table, if this has not already occurred, poisoning the drinking water pumped from the ground.

On August 13-15, 2001 MERC witnessed a hunting expedition in LGCA with King Abdullah II of Jordan, accompanied by a very large entourage. Maasai movement during the king’s two-day visit was severely curtailed around Oltigomi, Ololsira-Lukunya, and Ololosokwuan areas. Numerous vehicles with radios, a helicopter, and two small planes patrolled the entire area. King Abdullah’s entourage used these helicopters and vehicles to herd wildebeest and other large groups of wildlife toward the foot of the hills for easy hunting. For two days, MERC heard gunshots almost continuously from the morning until the late afternoon. Some of the killed animals were loaded onto trucks and taken to OBC camps, while others were loaded onto at least seven trucks and sold to people in nearby communities. It is hard to estimate the number of animals killed by the king’s expedition or any other but Maasai believe that at least 60 animals were killed or wounded in the two-day hunting expedition. It is also now known that the OBC workers take advantage of official hunts to kill animals for their own consumption and sale in the neighboring communities. Over the following month, the Maasai encountered many wounded animals, particularly buffalos, zebras, and wildebeests. In fact, MERC associates on two different occasions encountered two wounded buffaloes between Kleins Camp and Ololosokwuan village and were almost attacked by one of them. The animals appeared to be in tremendous pain and were too agitated to move from the road, a common behavior from wounded animals. MERC observed that one of the buffaloes had a shattered front leg, while the other had a wound in the left side of the neck.

Encounters with wounded animals suffering from excruciating pain are a common scene in the hunting fields of Loliondo, particularly during the peak hunting season from June to December. The Maasai narrated stories of animals they have had to spear to death to relieve them of their suffering. On some instances, domestic dogs have come across and killed wild animals too sick to defend themselves. To demonstrate the seriousness of this problem, MERC was shown two two-week-old wildebeest carcasses lying next to each other with the horns barely one meter apart. MERC associates were told that the animals were caught unaware and gunned down by OBC while fighting over females and territory. The posture of the carcasses indicates that the animals were gunned down, devoured by vultures, and left as bones in the same position they were fighting. The Maasai continue to question the reason behind this killing of wildlife and feel justified in terming OBC’s operations an "irresponsible destruction of wildlife" in Loliondo.

How much science do people need to tell that there will soon be no quality wildlife left in this regions?

Nkadado Ole Saingeu, resident of Ole Polos, Loliondo

www.maasaierc.org