Meet the Maasai: Camel Herders

Many people have heard of the Maasai of Africa and their cattle. But how many know that some Maasai in Tanzania are turning to camels after their cattle herds died in an extended drought?

The drought in Tanzania has lasted since the 1990s, but things became desperate around 2007. A couple of years later, Heifer Tanzania persuaded villagers in Ketumbeine to accept some camels as substitutes for their doomed cattle.

Imagine that you were used to herding cattle and you suddenly had to herd an animal that might be twice your height and weighed 1,000 pounds. People in the village are still getting used to the camels, but they have discovered one happy advantage: the camels can carry heavy loads.

Now the women have help not only from the camels that carry water but also from the men, who used to leave the water-fetching to them. Now the men will lead the camels and help to load water or firewood. In this way, the separate spheres have begun to overlap a little more.

Camels produce milk throughout the dry season, and they don’t need to go as far as cattle do to find forage.

How is this restoration?

It’s restoration of people and culture with a twist. It’s a clever adapation, I think. But if camels can find forage closer to home than cattle, then areas closer to settlements may become overgrazed.

One of the 12 cornerstones of Heifer projects is environmental restoration, so I’m sure the project manager has brought up the subject in this village. But in an area suffering a prolonged drought, restoration will be very difficult.

Source: “Maasai Adapt to Survive,” Donna Stokes, World Ark, Holiday 2010

Related article on this blog: Do Ecosystems Need Disturbance?