I wanted to take a moment to tell you about the Lion Guardian Project that we learned about while we were in Kenya.
Our big cat cousins, the African lions, are struggling for survival. This is hard to imagine when just 50 years ago, more than 450,000 lions roared across the African continent. The lion, an iconic symbol of wild Africa, has disappeared from over 80% of their historic range. Today with only 3500-5000 wild African male lions remaining the Lion Guardians might be one of the lion’s best hopes for survival.
The Lion Guardians project was started in 2006 in collaboration with local communities and the Maasailand Preservation Trust in response to the killing of over 200 lions in the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystems since 2001. Lion Guardians across the ecosystem play a vital role in the monitoring of carnivores. They conduct weekly spoor surveys for density of predators and their prey, monitor lions in their areas using GPS units and telemetry receivers, and assist in lion hair and scat collection for DNA analysis. Each Lion Guardian uses a cell phone to report sightings of lions or any illegal activity.
The spearing of lions by Maasai warriors for both retaliatory and traditional purposes presents one of the biggest threats to the survival of lions in Kenyan Maasailand. The Lion Guardians project is saving lions by employing the lions biggest enemy, the Maasai warriors, to conserve rather than kill African lions.
The Lion Guardians monitor the movements of lions and other carnivores and help reduce human-wildlife conflict by:
- informing livestock herders to avoid areas where lions are present
- improving livestock enclosures (bomas) to protect them at night
- helping herders find lost livestock left out in the bush
- educating communities about carnivore importance and conservation
- preventing further lion killing by stopping other warriors from carrying out lion hunts.
The Guardians are respected because they come from the communities where they are working to save the big cats. And because many of the Guardians have killed lions in the past, they are able to diffuse a tense situation with their fellow angry warriors seeking revenge for their livestock killed by lions.
In 2010, Guardians prevented 45 hunting parties from killing lions. In other areas where the Guardians do not operate, 23 lions have been killed. The Lion Guardians have safely returned over 4,800 lost livestock that surely would have been killed by carnivores.
The Lion Guardians have been successful at stopping lion killing and at the extremely difficult task of accurately counting elusive lions in the dense bush. The goal of the program is to increase the lion population through education, training and awareness to secure a sustainable future of lions in Maasailand.
The future for the African lion may well be in the hands of the Maasai.