Kenya: A mobile solution for pastoralists’ livestock (Mongabay)

| January 19, 2024

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Mobile bomas are proving to be a breakthrough for Maasai pastoralists like Bernard Leshinga in southern Kenya. These movable enclosures were introduced to the area in 2017 and protect livestock from predators and aid in pasture management. They also help address the decline of herbivores linked to threats such as real estate development. By using mobile bomas, local livestock keepers can combine their individual parcels of land into a conservancy, let the vegetation recharge by moving herds around, and earn ongoing revenue from wildlife tourism. The mobile bomas also help control disease, manage invasive plant species, and enhance soil fertility through livestock droppings.

Bernard Leshinga is a Maasai pastoralist from southern Kenya who likes an easy day running his herding business.

But until recently, Mr. Leshinga had not discovered effective strategies to enable his livestock to compete for pasture alongside wildlife or to safeguard them from predators. Settled pastoralists often build a boma, or permanent corral or shed, to protect their herds at night. But people like him who range farther from home often struggle to prevent predation. And when rangelands become degraded and there are fewer wild grazers, the predators in Kenya’s complex Maasai Mara food chain target livestock more frequently.

A breakthrough for herders like Mr. Leshinga came in 2017 when mobile bomas were introduced. These are movable, wire-meshed enclosures in which pastoralists keep their livestock safe from predators at night. They range in size from a tennis court to half a soccer field. Every 10 to 14 days, depending on the season, the people responsible for a boma manually move the sheds to a new site. Mr. Leshinga says that the improved sheds are preventing attacks from wild predators.

Herbivores are declining in the area because worsening dry spells have scorched grasslands, reducing pasture. But the decline of hoofed wildlife is also linked to threats facing the country’s five migration corridors.

Nicholas Oguge is the environmental policy director at the Centre for Advance Studies in Environmental Law and Policy at the University of Nairobi. Mr. Oguge says the most troubling threat to herbivores is real estate development and infrastructure expansion. As land moves from communal to individual ownership, it is often fenced off and livestock are unable to pass through the barriers and are forced to graze by the roadside. 

But now, by using mobile bomas, local livestock keepers can combine their individual parcels of land into a conservancy. The conservancy helps vegetation recharge by moving herds around, and livestock keepers earn ongoing revenue from wildlife tourism rather than depending on income from property sales that leave their families destitute after the money is spent.

Mr. Leshinga explains that the sheds help with pasture management and vegetation regrowth because livestock droppings enrich the soil wherever the bomas are temporarily placed, and undigested seeds that the animal ingested are spread. Also, the animals’ hooves make small indentations on the soil surface inside the bomas, which helps rain seep into the ground, where seeds can use it to germinate, instead of draining away as runoff.

For over seven years, the International Livestock Research Institute’s Kapiti Research Station and wildlife conservancy, situated along the southeastern border of Nairobi National Park, has been researching the efficacy of mobile bomas. 

Nehemiah Kimengich is the ranch manager at Kapiti. He says they’ve discovered that the sheds have additional benefits. The regular movement of bomas and livestock from one site to another seems to help control the spread of animal diseases. When herds are kept in permanent corrals, their close proximity and the accumulation of manure creates conditions where the pathogens responsible for livestock diseases like East Coast fever can breed and multiply.

Another benefit is control of invasive plant species that choke ecosystems. When a mobile boma is placed on a site that such plants have colonized, the intense animal traffic often stamps out the weeds.This story is adapted from an article written by David Njagi and published by Mongabay titled “A mobile solution for Kenyan pastoralists’ livestock is a plus for wildlife, too.” To read the full story, go to: https://news.mongabay.com/2023/11/a-mobile-solution-for-kenyan-pastoralists-livestock-is-a-plus-for-wildlife-too/