Saving Africa�s Free-Roaming Lions

6/21/2007

Compensation Program Reduces Maasai Killing of Livestock Predators

San Diego, California � On the vast plains of southern Kenya, an ancient conflict between man and lion has been soothed under a program that compensates Maasai herders for livestock killed by some of Africa�s last free-roaming prides.

The Predator Compensation Program launched in 2003 at the 300,000-acre community-owned Mbirikani Group Ranch has sharply reduced the number of lions killed by Maasai warriors, called moran, to protect their precious livestock � the predominant means of livelihood for a pastoral East African people. The program is part of a broader initiative that brings jobs, education and other benefits to the Maasai community of Mbirikani.

Today, �the warrior and the lion are brothers,� declared Solomon Kitoke, longtime chairman of the Mbirikani Group Ranch, at a March meeting of the entire community.

Prior to European settlement, 1 million lions lived in Africa. By the 1980s, the population had dropped to 200,000 due to over-hunting, habitat loss, and other human encroachment. Fewer than 30,000 lions remain in the wild today, mostly in parks and protected areas too small to maintain viable populations.

Since the Predator Compensation Fund was launched in 2003, only four lions have been killed at Mbirikani Group Ranch, compared to 65 on neighboring ranches, and the lion population at Mbirikani is increasing. Now Conservation International (CI) and the Ol Donyo Wuas Trust (ODWT), which established the program with the Maasai communities at Mbirikani, want to replicate it at other group ranches in the Tsavo-Amboseli ecosystem, an unfenced region almost twice the size of Delaware situated 200 miles (320 kilometers) east of the Serengeti Plains.

�We must expand geographically as fast as possible, or we will have won the battle but lost the war,� said Richard Bonham, chairman of Ol Donyo Wuas Trust. �A lion that leaves our pilot test area and gets killed on a neighboring group ranch � because that community doesn�t have this program � is just as dead and brings us that much closer to an unsustainable lion population in this ecosystem.� Under the Predator Compensation Program, Maasai herders receive market value for livestock taken by predators, including lions. However, the program only pays livestock owners from local communities that have not killed lions or other predators to protect their herds or extract traditional revenge. On average, the program pays claims for more than 700 head of livestock a year.

The predator compensation is part of a broader ODWT program promoting economic development and biodiversity compensation at Mbirikani, including support for schools, educational programs, and scholarships for the local community. One aspect, called Living With Lions, employs young Maasai warriors as conservation scouts and seeks to offset livestock losses through improved animal husbandry.

In 2006, ODWT�s conservation model contributed to the Mbirikani community more than $150,000 in wages, predator compensation payments, and scholarships. Also in 2006, the Maasai living on neighboring Kuku Group Ranch adopted the predator compensation program with the support of a local trust similar to ODWT called the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust. This expansion doubled the area of protection for lions and other predators to nearly 600,000 acres.

�The connection between the Maasai and lions is an ancient one involving proud and honorable inhabitants of the bush, and this remarkable agreement captures the essence of a concept that maintains that pride and honor on both sides,� said Frank Hawkins, CI�s vice president for Africa and Madagascar. �Our goal in supporting this initiative is to show that long-lasting human cultural attachments to special wildlife � be it lions or lizards, elephants or elephant-shrews � is something that should improve the social and economic standing of people, as well as the conservation of those species.�

A group of nine Maasai from Mbirikani currently are visiting the San Diego Zoo�s Wild Animal Park to increase awareness of their East African plains culture and their program with Ol Donyo Wuas Trust.

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