New surveys and estimates suggest that the lion has disappeared from about 80% of its African range – even more alarming, their numbers have declined about 50% in the last 20 years. No one knows how many lions survive today in Africa because wild lions are difficult to count. The latest estimate is that there are only about 35,000 lions left in all of Africa. This is a very serious problem that requires unique conservation approaches.
What has caused the overall total lion population to decline so significantly? Experts agree that the causes are multiple, including habitat loss and fragmentation; poaching of lion prey for bush meat; poachers’ snares that catch lions by mistake; displacement of lion prey by livestock; disease; spearing or poisoning of lions in retaliation for livestock losses and attacks upon humans; ritual killing of lions and unsustainable trophy hunting for lions, chiefly by affluent Americans.
Given the complex issues that have caused the lion population to decrease, lion conservation is an intricate enterprise – it must reach across borders, across oceans, and across disciplines to confront a global problem and find unique ways to solve it.
One program that has been very successful and impacts our Maasai community is the Lion Guardians program in East Africa.
Lion Guardians is a conservation organisation dedicated to finding and enacting long-term solutions for people and lions to coexist across Kenya and Tanzania. The program currently trains and supports a team of more than 80 East Africans, mostly Maasai warriors, who are actively protecting lions, covering approximately 5,500km² (1.3 million acres) in Tanzania and Kenya. The programme centres around our famous national parks – Tarangire, Amboseli, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Serengeti National Park and Selous Game Reserve.
Lion Guardians’ conservation model is adaptable to various cultures and wildlife species. The programme is committed to workable solutions that are scientifically-driven. Founded on local value systems, community participation and science, it is based on a decade of research and rigorous measures of success.
Their approach involves recruiting young, Maasai and other pastoralist warriors to learn the skills needed to effectively mitigate conflicts between people and wildlife, monitor lion populations, and help their own communities live with lions. By actively engaging in their solutions-based conservation model, people who were once lion killers are transformed into lion protectors.
Given that Boutique Safari is the only Maasai owned safari company in East Africa, we are very supportive of the Lion Guardians program. We are proud that members of our tribe are using their great skills and knowledge of the African bush and its wildlife to help protect and preserve our lions for generations to come.
For us, conservation begins at home. Since 2007, Lion Guardians has recruited a number of Maasai warriors—young men for whom lion killing has traditionally been part of a rite of passage known as olamayio – to serve instead as lion protectors.
Historically, young warriors killed lions for olamayio. This is part of our traditional rite of passage to reach manhood. However, the Maasai are learning that lions are more valuable alive than dead, as they bring in money from tourism and wages, which we can use to provide food and education for our families. Thus, we are teaching our warriors that they should protect rather than kill our amazing lions.
Our men, trained in radiotelemetry and GPS use, track lions on a daily basis and prevent lion attacks on livestock. The program, small but astute, seems to be succeeding. Lion killings have decreased, and the role of Lion Guardian is now prestigious within our communities for whom the sublime and terrifying wildness of a lion is no dream.
For more information about the program, see lioguardians.org.
It is our hope that the Maasai who inhabit villages bordering the national parks will play a part in the long-term solution to protecting our precious wildlife. We are committed to conservation and leaving the generations that come the chance to live amongst our animals. We also believe that tourism and increased awareness for the plight of our lions, and other animals, is key to their protection.
Boutique Safari specialises in wildlife safaris and treks in Tanzania’s national parks including the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater and Mount Kilimanjaro. Being Maasai, we are also able to offer extraordinary adventures in the unspoiled beauty of Maasailand. We can even take you to our village for an experience of a lifetime. Let us enjoy an authentic cultural exchange, enlightening each other and creating memories about how much we have in common despite the vastly different ways we live.
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