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The Lion Guardians approach involves recruiting young non-literate Maasai warriors to become actively engaged in protecting lions rather than killing them. Enrollment in the Lion Guardians program becomes a life-changing experience for these young Maasai who have had no formal education. Taught to read, write and communicate in Swahili and trained in wildlife management and conflict mitigation techniques, the Lion Guardians monitor lion movements, warn pastoralists when lions are in the area, recover lost livestock, reinforce protective fencing and intervene to stop lion hunting parties. Collectively these efforts lead to a reduction in the loss of livestock, which in turn enhances the livelihoods of the local people and builds tolerance for lions and other carnivores. Most notably, these conflict mitigation efforts are founded on century-old traditional techniques and thus are easily understood and accepted by the community.
Currently, 40 warriors are employed as Lion Guardians covering areas of the Amboseli/Kilimanjaro ecosystems in southern Kenya/northern Tanzania, a key wildlife corridor between Kenya and Tanzania’s dwindling lion populations, as well as in central Tanzania’s Ruaha ecosystem. Since the program’s inception in each of these areas, the rampant lion killings in response to livestock depredation or as manhood rite-of-passage have been all but eliminated in areas with Lion Guardians, whereas in neighboring areas where there are no Lion Guardians, more than 90 lions have been killed.
For the first time in more than a decade, the lion population in the project’s core Amboseli region is growing, making this important ecosystem one of the few areas in Africa where lion numbers are on the rise. Lion prides, which had been absent for many years, are now forming and each adult lioness has cubs for a second year in a row. When this new generation makes it to adulthood, the population will have doubled in a few short years.
Due to its success in the Amboseli ecosystem, the Lion Guardians program expanded in 2012 to increase the number of critical lion populations protected by Lion Guardians. The expansions were in two important areas of Tanzania . The first expansion was to the unprotected areas outside of Ruaha National Park, home to the second largest population of lions in the world. The Ruaha program is done in partnership with the Ruaha Carnivore Project and Panthera. The second expansion was a logical southern extension of the current coverage area in Kenya’s Amboseli ecosystem into northern Tanzania.