Human Ecology

, Volume 42, Issue 5, pp 753–768 | Cite as

Coping with Natural Hazards in a Conservation Context: Resource-Use Decisions of Maasai Households During Recent and Historical Droughts

  • Brian W. MillerEmail author
  • Paul W. Leslie
  • J. Terrence McCabe


Analyzing people’s decisions can reveal key variables that affect their behaviors. Despite the demonstrated utility of this approach, it has not been applied to livelihood decisions in the context of conservation initiatives. We used ethnographic decision modeling in combination with qualitative comparative analysis (QCA) to examine the herding decisions of Maasai households living near Tarangire National Park (TNP) during recent and historical droughts. The effects of the establishment of TNP on herding practices during drought were different than anticipated based on the size and reliability of several prominent resource areas that are now within the park. We found little evidence of people relying on these swamps and rivers for watering cattle during historical droughts; rather, these sites were more commonly used as grazing areas for small stock and wet-season grazing areas for cattle to avoid disease carried by calving wildebeest. Yet during the 2009 drought, many herders moved their livestock – especially cattle from outside of the study area – toward TNP in search of grazing. Our analysis of herding decisions demonstrates that resource-use decisions are complex and incorporate a variety of information beyond the size or reliability of a given resource area, including contextual factors (e.g., disease, conflict, grazing) and household factors (e.g., social capital, labor, herd size). More broadly, this research illustrates that pairing decision modeling with QCA is a structured approach to identifying these factors and understanding how opportunities, constraints, and perceptions influence how people respond to changes in resource access.


Decision modeling East Africa Livelihoods National parks Pastoralism Protected areas Qualitative comparative analysis 



Data collection was supported by a National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant (BCS-1030847), National Science Foundation grants BCS-0624265 and BCS-0624343, and funding from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Center for Global Initiatives. BWM is also grateful to the Carolina Population Center for training support (T32 HD007168) and for general support (5 R24 HD050924) from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. We would like to thank Gabriel Ole Saitoti and Isaya Rumas for their assistance in collecting data. This manuscript benefitted from the insights of Colin West, Pamela Jagger, Aaron Moody, Martin Doyle, and three anonymous reviewers.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Brian W. Miller
    • 1
    Email author
  • Paul W. Leslie
    • 2
  • J. Terrence McCabe
    • 3
  1. 1.Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory and North Central Climate Science CenterColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA
  2. 2.Department of Anthropology and Carolina Population CenterUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillUSA
  3. 3.Department of Anthropology and Institute of Behavioral ScienceUniversity of Colorado at BoulderBoulderUSA

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