The Elephant Protection Initiative’s (EPI) Friend of the Month for June 2022 is Moses Lesoloyia, from northern Kenya. Moses is Project Manager for the Milgis Trust, working to improve the welfare of the Samburu and other nomadic peoples, and to conserve nature in a spectacular but fragile landscape. Moses features in a special film about northern Kenya the EPI will be showing in an online event on July 6, about the challenges of elephant conservation and climate change
Please tell us a little bit about your childhood. Were you living a very traditional Samburu life or were your early years very impacted by the modern world?
In my early years I lived a purely traditional Samburu life. I went to school at the age of 10 and I had already gone through all the trainings and learnings of a Samburu child. I herded the family livestock, pierced my earlobes, removed my two lower front teeth – without anaesthesia! These, and various games, were meant to build endurance and harden us. I learnt all about Samburu traditions, norms, taboos and so on.
How would you say life has changed, for better or worse, for the Samburu people during your lifetime?
Life has changed for both good and bad. There have been many improvements in terms of health care, education and food security. Many people used to die because of lack of health care, facilities and education. The Samburu used to entirely rely on their livestock for food and when productivity was low, people died of starvation. Now we have alternative food sources. We have shops, and we have more choice of clothes.
But on the bad side, modernisation has brought an erosion of the social fabric that held our society together. People no longer value others but think only of themselves. Meanwhile, the improved health care has caused population expansion, and this leads to competition for resources, space, water, and other services. It has caused conflict between people, and between people and wildlife, and much animosity.
The Samburu have always lived in an area rich in wildlife. Do you think their attitudes towards wildlife have changed over the years?
Fifteen years ago I would have said “yes”. The government had created a notion that all wildlife belonged to it, through the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). As a result, people did not care for wildlife and killed it with guns and poison. They felt the government was more concerned with wildlife than with humans, and this created a lot of hot blood. In fact, our last wild rhino was shot and killed by an agitated man in Keno Samburu, just to spite the government. But today our relationship with wildlife has improved, thanks to the enormous efforts of conservation organisations. People are happy to live with wildlife, and to build wells for wildlife in their areas.
You work with the Milgis Trust, to improve the lives of the Samburu and to protect the environment. What is the most enjoyable aspect of your job?
The community meetings where we talk and discuss conservation, the new ways and the traditional ways. I interact with many people, both young and old and I gain a lot of valuable knowledge about the modern world and the traditional Samburu world.
We’re going through a very severe drought in northern Kenya and the Horn of Africa. What has the impact been on the Samburu?
The Samburu have lost huge numbers of livestock. This causes alot of stress and children are dropping out of school due to lack of fees. The drought has exposed the Samburu to hunger, and as a result they have engaged in illegal activities like poaching, logging and charcoal burning, despite the cultural taboos around these practices. It has escalated cattle theft among our neighbouring people, the Turkana and the Borana.
You must have travelled extensively over the spectacular landscapes of northern Kenya. Please tell people who are not familiar with them why they must come and visit?!
Northern Kenya is still unspoiled. Many places are still pristine, with beautiful people such as the Samburu and Rendille still living a traditional lifestyle. Many places are remote and free from the bothers of the modern world, no roads, no telephone signal or noise. In fact, the only noise is the birds singing, a lion roaring, an elephant trumpeting, or a Samburu singing their day away.