Today was the most rewarding single day of walking yet. After our feast of sheep last night we walked for hours and hours in a wind driven drizzle across a high, cold moorland plateau. All around were herds of wildebeest, zebra and impala who seemed remarkably non-plussed by our passing. Every now and then we reached a remote manyatta where we stopped for smoky tea and discussed the wildlife on this little visited plateau. Leopard we were frequently told were common up here. At the manyatta we’d camped next too the night before they’d lost a couple of goats to a leopard just the night before our arrival and elsewhere we heard stories of leopards devastating flocks in overnight attacks. I questioned people as to what they thought of the leopards and, without exception, every single person said they’d like them gone. The leopards, they said, made their life hard and cost them livestock, and therefore money and, as they all made clear, when an animal attacked their livestock up here there was no government compensation as there is near the parks and reserves.
But while this might seem to be a bad news story there was a positive side to it. When asked if their opinion on the leopards would change if they were compensated all but one person said to me that if this were to happen then they would learn to live alongside the local wildlife. Some of them even specifically said that for them the best solution would be to create a community and wildlife conservancy up here. This they thought would bring more benefits for them and for the animals.
We’re bombarded by bad news stories predicting catastrophe for the wildlife of East Africa and much of this is very valid. Yet, throughout my extended travels in Kenya over the years I have frequently been left awed by the attitude of local people for whom large animals can be a serious menace, but yet these same people are often immensely proud of their wildlife and, given the opportunity, most Kenyans I have met would like to retain their wildlife just so long as they are able to receive some kind of financial benefit from them too.
It’s an attitude that always fills me with hope that there is the possibility of a future for large mammals in East Africa and it left me hoping that one day I could walk across this plateau again and find even more mammals living up in these cold mists.