Lion-killing Maasai leave spears at home

Fri Oct 9, 2009 6:35am EDT
 
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By Tom Kirkwood

"PRIDE ROCK," Kenya (Reuters Life!) - On a granite massif overlooking parched pridelands right out of Disney's "The Lion King," four traditionally attired Maasai stand, waving a device that looks like a TV aerial.

Olubi Larambe, Bilenanke Sitieyo, Linkena Ngindau and Mokoi Lekanai, all "morans," or "warriors" in the Maasai age-group system, are Lion Guardians, and the tracking device they are using is their weapon of choice in a war to halt the rapid decline of the largest of Africa's "big cats."

"We're hoping to locate Selankay and Narika," explains Amy Howard, a researcher with sister organization, Living with Lions, who provides training on the tracking devices.

The Lion Guardians track a score of collared - and many more uncollared - lions across a swathe of a million acres of community cattle ranches at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro, referred to as Maasailand.

The area, with Mbirikani Maasai Community Ranch at its heart, lies between four national parks and is home to a clutch of conservation programs, of which the Lion Guardians is the latest.

Preventing lion killings outside of Kenya's national parks is a daunting task. Some 100 lions are killed in Kenya annually. In the past, those figures might have included ritual killings by Maasai warriors. These days, they reflect a conflict over resources between lions and people.

If the trend continues, lions will be extinct in Kenya within 20 years, according to the website of Wildlife Direct, a Kenya-based organization that facilitates the direct delivery of private donations to conservation groups like the Lion Guardians.

Maasailand is also home to one of Kenya's most effective lion conservation initiatives to date, the Predator Conservation Fund (PCF), which compensates herders when they lose livestock to lions, hyeanas and other predators.   Continued...