‘Lion Guardians’ cut lion killings by 99%

A program to protect lions in Kenya has proven astonishingly effective, nearly eliminating all lion killings by locals.

The initiative, called Lion Guardians, enlists respected traditional warriors called ilmurran to convince their communities to leave lions alone. In Kenya’s Maasailand, pastoralists often spear or poison lions to retaliate after these predators have killed their livestock.

The “guardians,” who earn about $100 per month for participating in the program, discourage the hunts by pointing out that lions draw tourists and that people who kill lions risk arrest. They also help prevent livestock deaths by strengthening corrals and looking for lost animals. Finally, they note that if lions disappear, they will no longer be able to earn money as guardians — and “causing problems for another (particularly a respected) community member is frowned upon” among the Maasai, the study authors write in Conservation Biology.

The Lion Guardians program differs from another lion conservation program operating in Maasailand, called the Predator Compensation Fund (PCF). Under the PCF, locals are paid when lions kill their livestock. But compensation programs are usually expensive and may not change long-term attitudes toward lions.

To evaluate the effectiveness of the two programs, the researchers studied lion killings from 2003 to 2011 in a 3,500-square-kilometer section of Kenya, where about 27,000 Maasai live. The team found that the compensation program reduced the number of killings by 87 to 91 percent. But the guardians program performed even better, cutting killings by 99 percent when used alone or alongside the compensation program.

The Lion Guardians program was “associated with near-total cessation of lion killings in each area where it was implemented,” the authors write. Another advantage: The guardians program cost only about $41 per square kilometer per year, while the compensation program cost $93 per square kilometer per year. Roberta Kwok | 18 February 2013

Source: Hazzah, L. et al. 2014. Efficacy of two lion conservation programs in Maasailand, Kenya. Conservation Biology doi: 10.1111/cobi.12244.

Image © Ana Gram | Shutterstock

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