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Heartbreak on the Serengeti
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Online Extra: Amboseli Update
In some cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.
Photograph by Sam Abell

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    There is simply no place on Earth like the Serengeti ecosystem of northern Tanzania, where you can spend all day in the wild Africa many imagine, with lions, wildebeests, elephants, and other wildlife thriving on the grasslands and in the acacia forests.
I was very fortunate to experience it with a remarkable colleague named Jombi Ole Kivuyo, a native of Tanzania who was raised as a Maasai, went away to school, and remains a Maasai warrior. Jombi gave me access to many Maasai communities where I was welcomed warmly and given insights into a culture now in the process of rapid change.
    While it is true that the Maasai and other indigenous people who live in northern Tanzania face many challenges—population pressures; lack of adequate water, housing, and health care; dwindling natural resources; and a complete absence of sympathy from their central government—their situation is far from heartbreaking. Why? Because the Maasai, the Ikoma, and others in the region remain strongly independent and self-confident, and they are beginning to look after their own interests.

    Driving along the western borders of Serengeti National Park, it's easy to see why conservationists are often in conflict with indigenous people in northern Tanzania. The human population grows yearly—along with their migration eastward from the Lake Victoria basin—and people are building new ramshackle villages right up against the park borders. This has led to more poaching in the park and to a recent crackdown on villagers who kill thousands of animals illegally each year. Local leaders and park officials are groping for a solution, but finding one is unlikely until villagers come to realize that a live zebra or wildebeest is much more valuable to them than a dead one.     I was surprised when I came upon the scene at the Endulen missionary hospital. It looked as if a neutron bomb had gone off. Scores of Maasai, wrapped in traditional red blankets, were laid out on the hillside. They were immobile for the most part, but it turned out that they were only sleeping in the fresh air.

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