Co-Existence Good for People and Wildlife, Conservationist Says

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The project also focuses on how Kenya's national parks, created 50 years ago, have changed the landscape and affected the elephant population.

"When you take the human element out of the park, you always have a slump in diversity," he said.

Western says a road cutting through Tsavo, home to Kenya's largest national park, illustrates a valuable point. In the national park to the left of the road, elephants, destructive eaters who often break down whole trees, have turned the land into grass. On the commercial ranches to the right of the road, cattle have finished much of the grass and turned the land into tree-lined shrub.

"Elephants and cattle create a landscape suitable for the other," Western said.

Range Wars

For another project, Western is bringing together commercial ranchers from Arizona and New Mexico with Kenya's Masai herdsmen. Last year, the American cowboys visited Kenya; soon, the Masai will reciprocate with a trip to the United States.

At issue: how to increase the productivity of rangelands, while at the same time protecting wildlife. In the past, "range wars" have pitched ranchers and conservationists against each other.

Western, not surprisingly, believe they should work together.

"Ranchers and conservationists face a common threat," he said. "Land pressures and commercial development lead to the subdivision and deterioration of the open rangelands. For both livestock and wildlife, that loss of mobility raises the specter of drought and herd losses."

The solution, Western believes, is to maintain large tracts of land that can accommodate both cattle and wildlife.

The Original Cowboys

The Masai migrated from what is today the Sahara desert to East Africa with their cattle 9,000 years ago. "They are the original cowboys," said Western.

Now their experience parallels that of U.S. commercial ranchers in the early 1900s. Like the U.S. cowboys before them, the Masai are now forced to push for land subdivision due to commercial pressures. This makes economic sense in the short term, but is considered bad long-term management.

In Malpai, which straddles the Arizona-New Mexico border, the commercial ranchers who are participating in Western's exchange program have established an 800,000-acre (325,000-hectare) co-op—including 300,000 acres (120,000 hectares) of grassbanks—that unites individual ranches into one grazing land. The idea is to move the livestock into bigger herds and move them around more.

It's not an easy task. American cowboys have a fiercely individualistic reputation, and usually have no experience of working together, said Western.

However, they can learn from the Masai, who have a long tradition of redistributing cattle in a social network, particularly in dealing with drought.

"The Masai's future is the cowboy's past, and the cowboy's future is the Masai's past," said Western "Cattle can be good and bad for the land. It's about how you manage them."

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