Saturday, 11 May 2013

Living with the Pokot (part 1) - Kenya

For a while I lived with a semi nomadic tribe in Northern Kenya, working on a livestock programme.  This is where I became hooked on camels. Camels were a vast improvement on  the existing herds of low yield cattle that were rapidly degrading an increasingly arid and fragile environment. 

Pokot remains home to the largest black mambas, spitting cobras and camel spiders I have seen anywhere. One mamba who lived by the seasonal riverbed  was in the T Rex class of scary reptiles.

Encouraging a stock substitution programme from cattle to camels is never easy. Often a person’s entire wealth may be ‘on the hoof’ and there is the matter of personal status as well. Cattle are also usually required as payment for lobola ‘the bride price’, which is a subject that deserves its own separate post.  Camel  husbandry  requires its own set of skills which have to be learned carefully, as their loss would be a severe blow to the owner.

Spraying the camels for external parasites
 However benefits easily outweigh the risks. They can lactate far longer into the dry season, providing a milk supply particularly valuable to the women and children.  The soft padded feet do not compact the soil and there are selective browsers often of thorny bushes rather than grazing cattle that quickly remove the sparse vegetative covering  and of course they have a greater tolerance to thirst and hunger than cattle.

The Pokot eventually used scoops harnessed to camels to create dams which would capture and hold water when the rains came.  One of these dams was nearly my undoing. Returning late at night on a XT500 motorbike, I ran into a very large bad tempered crocodile that had unexpectantly made one dam its home and was out for a midnight stroll. With much wobbling I managed to stay on the bike and avoid its open jaws. It was rather a shock for both of us.

Camels scraping out a seasonal dam 
The increasing aridity of these marginal land's and increasing competition for finite water and grazing gives camel herders a distinct advantage in the survival stakes.