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However, drought, famine, cattle diseases, and intratribal warfare (warfare among themselves) in the nineteenth century greatly weakened the Maasai and nearly destrtoyed certain tribes.
The Maasai are thought of as the typical cattle herders of Africa, yet they have not always been herders, nor are they all today.
Because of population growth, development strategies, and the resulting shortage of land, cattle raising is in decline.
However, in 1880–81, when the British unintentionally introduced rinderpest (a cattle disease), the Maasai lost 80 percent of their stock.
The British colonizers further disrupted Maasai life by moving them to a reserve in southern Kenya.
However, cattle still represent "the breath of life" for many Maasai.
When given the chance, they choose herding above all other livelihoods.
Prior to British colonization, Africans, Arabs, and European explorers considered the Maasai formidable warriors for their conquests of neighboring peoples and their resistance to slavery.