By Tory Shelley
All of the Lion Guardians in Ruaha come from traditional Barabaig households where it is common to have more than one wife and many children. As pastoralists, livestock herding is the main occupation for the Barabaig and cattle are the direct equivalent of wealth (i.e. more cattle means more wealthy). The Lion Guardians we hire come from families who have few cattle and none but one of the Lion Guardians have attended formal schooling.
In Barabaig culture, to gain respect in the community and to enter into “manhood” it is necessary to successfully throw the first spear into a living being. Therefore, there is a distinction between killing and spearing an animal. For example, if one has “speared” a lion it means they might have been on a hunt with 5-100 other hunters but they were the first to successfully spear the animal. If they have “killed” a lion, it means that they were the one who gave the killing blow. While Barabaig men must spear any living being as part of becoming a man, spearing and killing lions holds special regard and is highly rewarded.
We are pleased to introduce you to the Ruaha Lion Guardians Team and share with you a bit of their amazing life stories!
Stephano Kiligoda Asecheka is the Coordinator for Lion Guardians Ruaha. Stephano is 33 years old and is one of 14 children. He is a local Barabaig who, previous to his work with Lion Guardians, had the unofficial role of problem-solver in the community. His respected role in the community has lent itself seamlessly to his new role as the Lion Guardian coordinator. He continues to mitigate conflict within the community and, with training from Lion Guardians, has expanded his ability to navigate conflict the community has with wildlife while guiding and supporting the Lion Guardians in their work. His family lives as traditional Barabaig pastoralists and he has two wives and five children. He has attended many hunts, but has not killed or speared any lions. Stephano believes in the power of education and that through sharing information about lions with the community, people will understand and experience the benefits of the Lion Guardian program and the benefits of keeping lions alive on village land. He is a dynamic public speaker and attends many meetings in the community to talk about the importance of lion conservation in the area and the benefits of the Lion Guardian program. His favorite aspect of being part of Lion Guardians is walking out in the bush, verifying lion tracks, and spending time in the bush with the Lion Guardians. He is keen to learn new skills and hopes that as the lion population grows in the area that there will be more opportunities for jobs with Lion Guardians in the Barabaig community.
Daudi Kinyoka Amdala is 22 years old and one of nine children. He has attended 10 hunts and has speared one lion. Daudi enjoys his work as a Lion Guardian and believes that the Lion Guardian program reduces the hardships of life. He particularly enjoys looking for lion tracks. Daudi is a deliberate tracker and thoughtful colleague; always noticing small details. Before his work with Lion Guardians, Daudi herded his families’ livestock and hunted. He is keen to learn English, an uncommon skill amongst the Barabaig. He has one wife and is a respected member of the community and a committed family man.
Darem Philipo Haiphizo is 20 years old and one of five children. He has attended nine hunts and has killed one lion. Darem sees the benefits of Lion Guardians and employment as he is now able to contribute livestock to his family. His favorite part of being a Lion Guardian is finding lion tracks, especially when the lions have rested and one can see the outline left by their body and tail in the sand. Darem enjoys his work and often has a smile on his face and a laugh in his speech. His father is a very respected spiritual healer and his older brother is an artist who is responsible for many of the decorated bangles seen being worn by the Barabaig community.
Gwagi Gaga Na is 27 years old and one of three children. He has killed five lions and speared 31. Before becoming a Lion Guardian, he was a very active lion hunter, having attended over 90 hunts and having killed five lions – a large number by any standard. This fact makes him a particularly influential member of the community, especially among hunters, and a very important member of our Lion Guardian team when it is time to stop lion hunts. Gwagi is grateful for the employment opportunity that the Lion Guardians project provides as he has three wives and five children to support. He enjoys looking for lion tracks and is a seasoned and deft tracker.
Ema Momoya Kwashema is 20 years old and one of six children. Both his parents have passed away and so he helps support his siblings. He has attended eight hunts and has speared two lions. Ema believes that helping to find lost livestock and being able to tell herders where lions can be found (and therefore protect livestock) are huge benefits for the community. As Ema is the only Lion Guardian who has had some level of formal education he often is a teacher to the others, assisting them with their writing and reading skills. Ema is one of our best trackers and is incredibly good at differentiating the tracks of wildlife with similar prints such as leopard and young lion. He suffered from polio as a young boy and to this day walks with a limp but this does not stop him from being an avid tracker and successful Lion Guardian.
Mandela Kaseri Dudmeka is 18 years old and one of 10 children. He is the youngest Lion Guardian, but he has attended 18 hunts and speared one lion. Mandela is grateful for the employment that Lion Guardians provides as he is now able to buy livestock to help support his family. His parents have both passed away and the income from his work makes a big difference in his family. His family is particularly supportive of his work and are very proud of him. His favorite part of being a Lion Guardian is looking for lion tracks and finding fresh ones. Mandela is very skilled at noticing details and will be the first to show you where a lion made a small movement. He often explains how the lions spend their time in a story-like fashion while pointing out the various lion tracks and sign left behind.
Victoria (Tory) Shelley is the project manager for the Ruaha site. She is assisting with the training and helps things run smoothly until we can place the management completely in the hands of the local Tanzanians. She has a Master’s degree in Conservation Biology and Sustainable Development from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and has expertise in human-carnivore conflict mitigation