Life with the lions

November 4, 2009











Kenya’s Maasai warriors are known for being fearless lion killers but times have changed and the country’s lion’s population is in danger of being wiped out. Now the Maasai in southern Kenya are taking part in an initiative to preserve the big cats.

For thousands of years the Maasai co-existed with huge herds of wildlife. Their lion-killing rituals kept down the number of lions preying on the game while their fearsome reputation as warriors kept the herds safe from other humans. The result, Kenya’s wildlife heritage is a wonder of the modern world.

But Kenya’s lions, a huge tourist attraction, are being decimated. From tens of thousands, only around 2,000 survive.

Lion researcher Amy Howard told Reuters Africa Journal that Maasai are now being recruited as Lion Guardians: “The problems are that these lions are coming into bomas, they’re attacking livestock, goats and cows and the communities are getting angry about this. In the past they used to go out on hunting parties and try and kill the lions in revenge and also as a rite of passage for the warriors.

“So what we are doing is we are employing warriors here to conserve the lions. They go out and track them and tell their communities where they are so they know not to herd there. So we’re tying to reduce the amount of conflict that we’re getting between the livestock and lions.”

Lion Guardians use an electronic device that will help them track a dozen or so lions that they and the researchers have been able to collar.

The Guardians often walk huge distances to pinpoint the exact location of the collared lions. But while the tracking device helps them locate collared lions, uncollared lions still require traditional tracking skills.

The Lion Guardians work alongside other conservation efforts in the area. The Maasailand Preservation Trust oversees a programme that compensates herders when they lose livestock to lions, hyenas and other predators.

But not everyone is happy, as cattle owner Solomon Lotobulua explains: “We are told to simply watch when lions attack our animals, that we would be compensated. The agreement we reached was that for one cow attacked we would be paid $200. But now we’re only paid $160. So we are saying that unless things change, by the end of the year, we will chase away the lion projects.”

The Maasai are in a difficult position, caught between the need to conserve Kenya’s wildlife and a historical animosity towards anything that might kill their cattle. But as Lion Guardians they are helping their community reclaim a place at the centre of Kenya’s conservation efforts.


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I’m not sure what’s so new about this project. It seems that the Lion Guardians program has successfully modelled and marketed a concept developed by a wildlife biologist studying lions in northern Kenya. I visited and participated as a volunteer in the Lion Warriors Program, a nearly-identical project, in 2004! At that time, it was being run quite successfully by a lion specialist in a remote area of Samburu, Kenya, who, even today, sends updates of her work to former program volunteers. I am not sure when she conceptualized or initiated this idea, but it pre-dates 2004. There, she utilized moran warriors of the Samburu tribe, closely related to the Maasai, in the same capacity, to protect lions. While the Lion Warriors Program seems much more well-developed and complex than the Lion Guardians program, the basic premise is the same. Either the project in your article is an offshoot of that one, or something is a bit off here.

Posted by Jenn Carron | Report as abusive

The project is a timely one especially coming at a time when lions in Kenya are being termed as endangered species facing extinction. It is also important in reducing human wildlife conflicts as over the years the maasai community have faced attacks from the lions without being adequately compensated . Most important was the involvement of the locals in the project as they are in a better position to understand the problems they are facing, and thus reep from the benefits of the project.I also wish such projects could be extended to other endangered wildlife species like the elephants.EDWIN MBAYANAIROBI – KENYA.

Posted by EDWIN MBAYA | Report as abusive

lions live in the regions of india and africa. They are one of the largest members of the cat family after the tiger. Both the male and female are large mammals that have more power then speed. They can weigh up to 100 – 200 kg and can reach up to 2.5 m in lenght. Lions fur varies in colour sandy brown to black. Adult male lions grow a mane around their shoulders that distinguishes them from females.

Posted by jayden | Report as abusive

The rape of English grammar proceeds.Your first sentence should read, “…the country’s lion(used as an adjective)population is in danger…”There is no need to incorrectly use a possessive(‘s)asa plural. And you actually get PAID for this.

Posted by Mary E. Sipes | Report as abusive

I think it’s a brilliant initiative from lion hunters to lion gaurdians, a truly awesome transformation.Alon FisherSouth Africa

Posted by Alon Fisher | Report as abusive

I believe is time for Africa’s to believe in protecting there natural resources and not some white men and women called researchers to come and help solving our problems… our leaders should first educate the people on the danger by using local educators. it is then that we can be proud of saying we are africans and not babies that should be by the mothers

Posted by eniola | Report as abusive