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Kachana News

December 2008 News

Kachana News, December 2008


Kenya Report: Study tour August 2008

Chris Henggeler, www.kachana.com


Click here to view some photos of our study-tour to Kenya

The use of herds at high density as a ‘land management tool’ was something I learned from my father on our farm in Rhodesia in the late sixties.

Since 1992 my family and I have been testing this tool in Australia’s Northwest. The results are promising: former erosion gullies now supply water perennially
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and each year we learn something new.

When you begin with what resembles a desert the first step is to keep soils, plants and animals alive…
Then we want to increase the bulk: ‘fat and healthy soil’ grows ‘fat and healthy vegetation’ which in turn grows ‘more, bigger and healthier animals’…

First and foremost we use our animals to nurture and to ‘feed’ our soil. The key seems to be how we manage the behaviour of our animals. After sixteen years of applying theory to practice Jacqueline and I indulged in the most amazing study-tour that we have experienced to date: a horse-ride along the northern edge of the Serengeti system...
The idea came from Hendrik O'Neill, an old school buddy of mine from Rhodesia. (With us was Rob Kroeger also an old school buddy now training horses in Canada; the three of us had not been together since 1972...)
All in all there were 12 of us ‘students of ecology’ from five countries... we also caught up with local land-managers from Kenya.
Our aim was to look at soils, herds and people whilst appreciating one of nature's last remaining models of biological land renewal on a grand scale: the wildebeest migration. We rode about 200 km on horseback and had plenty of time on foot and in vehicles.
Apparently each year about 1'500'000 wildebeest move North to the Mara where they move around in large herds for about three months. The largest herd we saw was about 18'000 to 20'000 strong...
I had seen films and photos, but the real thing was simply something else...

Animals spread out to feed at arguably “high density”…

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Towards mid-day animals converge near water:

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By Kachana standards this is “Very High Density” (approx 1200 to 1800 head/ha)

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“Ultra High Density” by Hendrik O’Neill’s standards is 2500 to 3000 head per hectare! (Those animals cannot even turn around; they are kept moving…)
Ultra High Density herd management is a tool pioneered by the Zietsmanns and the O’Neill’s of Zimbabwe to simulate “herd effect”.  In the wild herd-effect naturally occurs in association with predator-stress. Introducing predator stress in domestic and in production situations is not feasible; hence the attempt to study and find practical ways to mimic nature’s processes to rejuvenate soils.
In southern Africa the year 1896 saw the last of the great springbok migrations. As wild herds disappear we need to look at what caring land managers can achieve.

As so often, this learning experience too, provided more new questions than answers, but none of us were disappointed.

It would have been great to have had more time to observe the predator-prey relationships that keep this dynamic mass of animals moving through the landscape as they do, but that leads us to the first and foremost question:
Is what we are watching still intact, or are we already studying a situation where eco-system function has been compromised?

(National politics aside) Other nagging questions:
Have the banks of the Mara always been so steep?
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Where are the saplings on the downs country to replace the odd grand old trees when they eventually die?
What happens when Manyattas (campsites and yards of the semi-nomadic Masai) are not moved as frequently or when permanent settlements obstruct migration routes?
What happens if there is a change in rainfall patterns?
Have smaller perennial streams always been reduced to anaerobic conditions during the drier times of the year?
How are traditional herding practices being influenced by the advent of mobile phones and computer games?

While such questions should have us choose the side of caution, other observations give rise to optimism:
The unbelievable responsiveness of these animals (wildebeest in particular); could we apply LSS principles to isolate a group or a herd and specifically target an area with high animal impact? - This could be a possible substitute for the regular burning that is obvious in the landscape (and apparently on the increase), but it could also address issues like water-security and boost productivity in an already highly productive situation. –
But what about areas that are desertifying because of the lack of animals? To quote Einstein: “The significant problems that we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”
New solutions to new or escalating challenges will take new thinking.

The African in me will always keep me asking questions, but my immediate challenges are at home. A flight from Perth to Argyle showed a country that is by and large being managed to become a desert.

Coming home was a bit of a shock… that was until we came to the perennially flowing creeks of Kachana and our little homemade oasis among the rocky ranges.

“I hear I forget…
“I see I remember…
“I do I understand.” (Courtesy of J.L.)
I could have ridden on forever just taking it all in.
Because of close to forty years of hearing, seeing and doing (Thanks Dad! Thanks Allan!) there is so much of what we saw that makes perfect sense and encourages us to go on with our work on Kachana, yet it is still so hard to explain let alone to convince those that will not see.
I sincerely hope Australia’s political leaders and power-brokers will eventually wake up to themselves and try and align policy and legislation with how nature actually works…
To quote Allan Savory:
“We have all the money in the world, but we are running out of time.”

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Future study-tours:
Anybody interested in participating in such a study-tour, please get in touch with Kachana Pastoral Company.
It would be great to get more such groups of international land-managers together for such a first-hand learning experience. Being able to spend several hours in a saddle is a prerequisite. The idea would be to draft a study-tour proposal and then request Safaris Unlimited to host us. This will call for at least one year of forward planning.

For the impatient who wish to go sooner or put together their own group, please contact:
Safaris Unlimited in Kenya.

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Related links:

Animal Impact: a “power tool”

2007 Africa Report

Map of Masai Mara with information about the wildebeest migration