A few people have requested more information on the Lion Guardians. Here is some material that will soon be published on our own website (www.lionconservation.org). Please follow the link and see the a description of all the work that the Living with Lions initiative carries out.
In collaboration with the local communities of Mbirikani ranch, the Living with Lions project, and the Maasailand Preservation Trust a program called “Lion Guardians” was initiated in October 2006. The impetus to create this project was in response to the slaughtering of over 130 lions in the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem since 2001. Retaliatory and traditional spearing by Maasai warriors (murrans) is the greatest threat to the survival of lions in Kenyan Maasailand today. The Lion Guardian’s program attempts to reduce the pressure on lions by employing their greatest enemy to conserve them rather than kill them. Since the onset of this project there have been no lions killed on Mbirikani ranch.
The Guardians have two major duties: 1) to monitor lions and other carnivore movements so to protect them 2) aid their communities in various ways. Specifically; informing herders to avoid high-conflict grazing areas (where carnivores are present), improving livestock kraals, helping herders find lost livestock that are left out in the bush (and subsequently killed by predators), educating communities about carnivore importance and conservation, and lastly, but most importantly, Lion Guardians work with other murrans in the community to prevent further lion killings (both tradition and retaliation killings). Since the inception of the project, guardians have actively prevented over five hunting parties from killing lions. During the same time period, over 15 lions have been killed in surrounding group ranches by murrans. Given that the guardians come from the communities in which they work, and are older murrans (many have also killed lions in the past) they are very well respected by all community members and can assuage a tense situation of angry warriors wanting revenge on their dead cow.
Currently there are nine guardians employed and managed by a Maasai coordinator under the direction of the Living with Lions initiative and the Kilimanjaro Lion Conservation Project. The guardians are working in seven communities on the ranch where lion-livestock conflict is highest. Each guardian has been trained to document lion and other carnivore presence using GPS units, and then record it on a simple form with pictures rather than words making it easier for illiterate guardians. Also, each guardian knows how to track collared lions using telemetry receivers. Each lion that has been collared since the start of the project has been given a Maasai name by the guardian/s that helped with the collaring. In addition, every employee has a cell phone which is used to report back any significant sightings of lions or threat to their community to base camp.
The Maasai in southern
are still totally dependent on their great herds of cattle, sheep and goats, but due to modernization and massive socioeconomic change, they have lost their traditional tolerance and ability to cope with carnivores and conflict. Today they regard wild animals as an unmitigated nuisance rather than an economic resource or embodiment of Maasai culture. If lions are to persist in this ecosystem, it is essential to increase tolerance of local communities by getting them involved in conservation and by showing them that benefits can come from conserving wildlife.