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Lion Guardians blend culture, connection and practical economics

Page history last edited by Rosemary 6 years, 5 months ago

Posted on YouTube by Lion Guardians on 2 August 2013.


A new participatory approach to conservation that preserves Maasai cultural traditions, ensures the survival of lions in Africa, creates jobs and protects villages won the prestigious St. Andrews Prize for the Environment in 2012. More than 30 warriors work as Lion Guardians, covering more than 3,500 kilometres of the Amboseli ecosystem in southern Kenya, a key wildlife corridor between Kenya and Tanzania's dwindling lion populations. As a result of their work, the Amboseli lion population is stabilizing, and for the first time in more than a decade, all adult lionesses in the Lion Guardian areas have cubs.

The Lion Guardians mission is "to promote sustainable coexistence between people and lion using cultural values, community participation and science". Developed in 2006 by the Living with Lions project and the local communities, the program was initiated in collaboration with Maasailand Preservation Trust in January 2007 on Mbirikani Group Ranch in the Amboseli Ecosystem.

"The Lion Guardians approach has demonstrated its merit as a successful, effective and sustainable environmental conservation model," says the St. Andrews Prize citation, and has inspired local communities across Kenya and Tanzania to ask that Lion Guardians programs be started in their areas. A tiger conservation program in India also wants to test the model there.

The vital need to protect lions is shown in the population statistics. Fewer than 30,000 of the estimated half million lions who wandered the African continent a half century ago still remain, and are found in only a fraction of their former range. In Kenya, as of 2010, fewer than 1,970 lions remained and one expert predicted lions could be extinct in Kenya by 2020 if immediate effective action was not taken.

The main reason for lions’ decline is conflict with humans, specifically with pastoralists who kill lions that have attacked their livestock, and with young Maasai warriors who kill lions in a ritualistic practice to demonstrate their bravery. The Lion Guardians program addresses both issues, by recruiting young non-literate Maasai warriors to protect lions, villages, and lost livestock..

"Taught to read, write and communicate in Swahili and trained in wildlife management and conflict mitigation techniques, the Lion Guardians monitor lion movements, warn pastoralists when lions are in the area, recover lost livestock, reinforce protective fencing and intervene to stop lion hunting parties," the program says. "Collectively these efforts lead to a reduction in the loss of livestock, which in turn enhances the livelihoods of the local people and builds tolerance for lions and other carnivores. Most notably, these conflict mitigation efforts are founded on century-old traditional techniques and thus are easily understood and accepted by the community."

The Lion Guardians are taught basic literacy, data forms, conflict mitigation techniques, GPS and telemetry tracking of radio collared lions. The more experienced Lion Guardians have proven instrumental in bringing the newly employed Guardians up to speed on the protocols through participatory training. As the program expands, the tenured Lion Guardians will carry out training of the new Lion Guardians in Tanzania.

The program aims to make all aspects of Lion Guardians independent of supervision and management by westerners, so that all activities are carried out by trained and experienced pastoralists. All coordinators are provided with training in project management, funding-raising, public speaking, report writing, data management, analysis, and additional opportunities to attend national, regional and international events. They also write a blog, providing unique insights that are popular with our readers and bring in significant project donations.

Specifically, the Lion Guardians monitor lions and other carnivores; aid their communities by informing herders when to avoid areas where lions are present, improving livestock enclosures, helping herders find lost livestock left out in the bush, and educating villagers about the importance of carnivores and their conservation; and deter lion hunts. 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. Every Guardian has a cell phone which is used to report any sightings of lions or any illegal activity. All lions have been given Maasai names by the Guardians, greatly increasing lion awareness in the broader community by personalizing each lion.

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 their communities and can assuage a tense situation when angry warriors seek revenge for their dead cow.


This story was prepared from information on the Lion Guardians website and information about the 2012 award on the St Andrews Prize for the Environment website. The You Tube video was posted by the Lion Guardians program in August 2013; the film was funded by the St Andrews Prize for the Environment.

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