No lions (Panthera leo) have been killed in Kenya’s Mbirikani for over four years.
At least not by the Maasai.
“That’s an amazing success story,” says Dr. Richard Rice, Chief Economist at Conservation International (CI). “We have real, measurable proof that involving the local Maasai in lion and landscape conservation on their traditional lands is having a powerful effect.”
For more than five years, Conservation International (CI) has supported an innovative program in Kenya that creates cultural and economic incentives to discourage Maasai tribal communities from killing lions and other predators on their land.
Lions are key indicators of ecosystem integrity, requiring large areas and herds of prey to thrive. They are also classed as globally threatened by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Responding to long-standing cultural traditions that condoned – and sometimes encouraged – the killing of lions, in 2003, CI-partner the Maasailand Preservation Trust worked with the Maasai leadership on Mbirikani ranch to establish a Predator Compensation Fund that offsets the cost of livestock kills by lions and other carnivores.
The Maasai have rallied around the project, creating a cultural pressure against lion-killing to match the financial incentives.
IN VIDEO: The Predator Compensation Fund
Since the project’s founding, two additional Maasai-owned group ranches, Kuku and Olgulului have joined the program, creating a massive region of safety for lions and the habitats they represent.
In fact, in 2008, the elected leadership of Olgulului joined the program with a contribution of their own money in order to begin taking part. Since that time, only one lion has been killed on their land, compared to 40 in the previous two years.
With the addition of the Kuku and Olgulului agreements, Mbirikani ranch is now part of a relatively safe “conservation corridor” that connects the Amboseli and Chyulu Hills national parks with the much larger Tsavo National Park.
These large-scale corridors are vital to the protection of wide-ranging species like lions. And in the larger Absoseli-Tsavo ecosystem – the one linked by these Maasai lands – the lion population is actually on the rise.
As is cultural change.
In 2008, the “fathers of the warriors” (the group of men designated to teach Maasai traditions to the younger generation of men) began shifting their traditional rites of passage to reject the killing of wildlife and focus, instead, on other tests of skill.
What’s good for the lions is clearly good for the land’s traditional stewards as well. The lions, and those who value them, sleep better tonight.
READ MORE: Kenyan Tribe Saves Its Threatened Predators