Many people will be familiar with the Laikipia land invasion stories by now. The immediate impact on the affected ranches, surrounding communities, and wildlife of the area has been devastating. What is less known is the many thousands of smaller knock-on effects that will follow such a sudden and drastic change in land-use. All these stories are useful for anyone who is interested in promoting coexistence between people and wildlife.
This is an example of one collared lion’s response to a sudden influx of very high densities of people and livestock into his home range. It just happens to be the only GPS collared lion we (and our partners Ewaso Lions) had in the afflicted areas at the time. With a sample size of exactly ‘1’, we should be careful about drawing any conclusions from his movement patterns but it is interesting none the less.
When the first invading herds started to arrive on Suyian, Livingstone didn’t change his movements much, he still predominantly used the open plains of Suyian. These plains were, at the time, his pride’s favourite hunting grounds, but already represented a departure from their normal home range on Northern Loisaba. Prior to collaring, Livingstone’s pride had already made one shift west to Suyian, after invasions of high densities of livestock on Loisaba.
As the densities of livestock and people drastically increased on Suyian, Livingstone began to restrict his movements to the Loisaba side of his home range. He also started to hug the steep escarpments, where the rugged terrain limits the movements of people and livestock. The invading herds did not strictly stick to the ranch boundaries shown on my map, so even on the Loisaba side lions would have felt the pressure from increasing humans and livestock. During this time, Livingstone and his pride still made forays onto the plains but infrequently and only under the cover of darkness.
At the height of human disturbance on Suyian and neighbouring Sosian, Livingstone left the area altogether. He has not returned to this day. We are not yet sure how many of his pride still travel with him because they have continued to predominantly stick to thick and inaccessible terrain. We are sure, however, that during the 15+ years we have been following this pride, this is the first time they have left their normal pride area on Northern Loisaba. Now Livingstone is in the territories of other lions we know, and negotiating the politics of his own kind, compressed into a smaller area by human encroachment, will be an ongoing challenge.
Which factors are most important in driving these observed movement patterns is an interesting question. Is it fear of people, reductions of wild prey, or something else altogether?
The influx of many thousands of livestock, and the armed herders accompanying them, certainly cannot be ruled out as a probable cause. Our earlier research indicates that avoidance of high densities of pastoralist people due to fear (not limited food) is typical behaviour. Wildlife and pastoralist people can coexist, in fact coexistence with people is key to the survival of many wide-ranging species like lion but the Laikipia ranch invasion story is revealing limits to that coexistence. Where these limits lie, and whether there are any mitigating factors, is something we need to know if we are going to strive for better human-wildlife coexistence.