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My life: Jackson Looseyia, Maasai guide turned TV presenter

The safari guide turned BBC documentary presenter talks Martin Williams through some of the changes he has seen in Kenya's Maasai Mara National Reserve

 

BAD BLOOD I was born in 1967. My home village had about 15 people in it, more like a homestead in the West. My father was a hunter-gatherer and herdsman. My mother followed a Maasai lifestyle centred on cattle. I drank cow blood from an early age. It doesn't taste good. Even with a little milk it's pretty tough to drink, but you can't say no to your parents.

I didn't follow the tradition of killing a lion to prove manhood but was sent to school. Today, many of my former classmates are leaders in their communities.

TRIGGER HAPPY My father hunted before the British colonial government enforced laws to protect the Maasai Mara (National Reserve). He then hunted in protected areas, and was leader of some poachers. When rangers came one day, they ran, but he didn't see why he should run from any man. He was sent to jail for eight years. When he came back, a colonial officer employed him in the wildlife department, as a ranger. He was given a gun, and this was something he liked; he could shoot some animals for food, also for population control.

FEAR IS KEY After my dad came out of jail, when I was about eight, he took me to many places, and I developed a soft spot for animals. Animals can be very dangerous. As you walk, they hear you approach, so you put your brain on another channel. A buffalo broke my father's hand and, as a young teenager, I saw the broken bones. I became accepting of the danger. I developed a fear, which is actually good, (it's) part of respect. If you see a buffalo or elephant or pride of lions and have no fear, you'd be pretty stupid. Our parents taught us not to kill baby animals. Animals are spiritual, they connect - they know a bad guy or a good guy. They're a family, and very forgiving. When my father was hurt by a buffalo, it was like revenge for his hunting. We've lost some of the spiritual link to animals. I've had lions come to my car; they are my friends, my family. I am connected to them but many people disconnect from the wild world.

NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT My father began working for Ron Beaton, who had a small safari company. He was a guru of Maasai. When my father became too old, Ron asked me, "Can you come - as a spotter, on the car roof?" I was about 19, and would get near animals I had never been close to. I was so excited I didn't sleep the night before. Zebras and wildebeest were not afraid of the car. We saw lions up close: I was amazed. I listened to Ron talking about the importance of lions in the ecosystem, and what is an ecosystem. I thought, "This is a nice life." My world was opened by one guy.

FOLLOW THOSE CATS I had worked as a guide for about 20 years before the BBC contacted me. They wanted me as someone who knows the cultural side, but realised I enjoy cats, and put me with leopards and lions. It was really fantastic, following particular families. One thing that stood out was following a pride of lions for 24 hours, seven days a month. They might sleep but then get up and go very fast, and you try to catch up. At night, they seem like shadows: they are there and suddenly no longer there. During a Human Planet episode on grasslands, the BBC wanted something different. It expanded my world to follow three Maasai guys stealing food from a lion kill (Looseyia directed the sequence). It was amazing, like I was a kid again, in my 40s! I stood there and didn't know what would happen; maybe the lions would maul a guy or a lion would be killed. We had one guy with a gun, following a cameraman on foot.

ROAR POWER The most dangerous time to approach lions is when they are mating. They're fast and aggressive. The female charges first and the male follows, wants to fight. If you're lucky the female goes away and he'll follow. When I was young, walking with friends, we were charged by lions. We had spears and bows and arrows, and shouted to stop them.

The other day, I was walking a client to the tent at night and heard a cat roar. First I looked up, for an plane. I put my light on and there was a leopard, right there. It seems as if the roar is from above or behind you and it overpowers you.

CHANGE OF HABITS My father's world has gone. A lot of things are switching off and there's another world, with education and science. Before, we lived in small communities. Now we're part of the many tribes of Kenya. The population is growing fast and we're learning that education can decrease population growth. I talk to a lot of communities, including about population and female genital mutilation. Some ask why this is a problem now, but changing traditions is part of making a nation.

I've seen lion numbers decrease big time, cheetah numbers are down massively, too. In the 1980s, there was a lot of elephant poaching and many went to Tanzania. After an ivory ban in 1989, they increased to amazing numbers, but now they are decreasing again (after the trade in ivory resumed). In the past three years, I've seen tens of elephants killed. I hope people will stop buying ivory.

CALLING ALL COWS I have 20 cows and 50 sheep. If you're a Maasai without cows, no one will respect you. I love cows. They know when I'm home, I call them by name and they come. I pet them.

Tourism money supports communities. Otherwise, the land might have no value and people would ask, "Why keep it for lions?" Now, most Kenyans in cities support conservation.

 

Jackson Looseyia was in Hong Kong as a guest of Asia to Africa Safaris www.atoasafaris.com.

 

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