Lions are making a comeback from an innovative program that has turned hunters into conservationists. The Maasai, in Kenya, have turned a rapid decline in the lion population into a recovery. That remarkable effort is being duplicated in other areas and countries.
In 2007 a young graduate student from California changed her area of study from elephants to lions. The change was driven by dire predictions of the lion’s demise in Kenya.
Also in 2007, a Maasai warrior was jailed for killing a lion, despite his protest that the lion had killed one of his father’s cattle.
These totally unrelated events led to a meeting of the twenty-two year-old Californian and the Maasai warrior. Over time, the warrior realized that he could better provide for his family on a salary paid to protect lions. The alternative was no income and possibly going to jail for killing them. This transition took much patience and respect on the part of both people, as well as great deal of luck, and some auspicious circumstances.
Lion hunting is deeply ingrained in Maasai culture. Killing a lion with a spear is a requirement of the rite of passage into manhood. Cattle represent Maasai wealth, their societal status and their food supply. When lions kill their cattle they have to respond in kind.
Fifteen years after their first encounter, Dr. Leela Hazzah and Kamunu Saitoti are now the stalwarts of the Lion Guardians. They have projects in Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Mozambique and India, where they protect tigers.
The Lion Guardians have now received international visits and encouragement. Bob Simon of the U.S. program “60 Minutes” and from Sir David Attenborough of the BBC, to name just two.
There are more fascinating details of successes and tragedies in this continuing story than I can possibly record here. It would need at least a book. However, it is such an exemplary, encouraging and, above all, heart-warming story that I will come back to it in future blogs.
Leela, Kamunu, and their cause, deserve as world-wide a recognition as it’s possible to give. Lion Guardians, and their accomplishments in the comeback of lions in Kenya, are an example for the world in wild animal protection.