Tradition-inspired programmes to safeguard the lion
Last updated on 1 Jul 2012 00:00
By JOE KIARIE
As three Maasai morans mauled by lions in Loitoktok last Thursday fight for dear life, some of their colleagues in the Amboseli ecosystem could be shaking their heads in utter incredulity. By executing one of the lions that had killed a cow in the Kuku Group Ranch, the morans added one more statistic to familiar scenes that have seen the lion population in Africa drop from over 200, 000 to about 30, 000 today.
But across the plains in the Amboseli and some other parts of the country, the lions are strangely savouring a new lease of life courtesy of their traditional nemesis – the morans. This has been made possible by diverse tradition-inspired programmes aimed at saving the lion population.
Among them is the Lion Guardians Project that covers parts of the Amboseli. Since its inception in 2007, the programme’s innovative knit of traditional knowledge with modern scientific techniques has helped protect lions by using the morans to conserve rather than kill.
This wildlife-conservation concept that was initiated by biologist Leela Hazzah, is stunning in its simplicity. It basically involves having well-respected morans, called the lion guardians, to monitor lions and other carnivores, aid local communities by informing herders when to avoid areas where lions are spotted. It also helps improve livestock enclosures (bomas) and helping herders find lost livestock that strays into the bush. They also report suspected poachers to the authorities and provide education about the importance of lions and their conservation.
Skilled field biologists
Interestingly, the guardians have been trained into skilled field biologists and the subsequent bond between them and professional scientists have helped effectively monitor and protect lions in over 1, 500 square miles of wilderness.
On the ground, each of the lion guardians across the vast ecosystem plays an essential role in monitoring carnivores. They conduct weekly surveys for density of predators and their prey, monitor lions in their areas using GPS units and telemetry receivers, and assist in lion hair and scat collection for DNA analysis. Most of the lions are fitted with VHF collars that transmit a radio signal that can be picked up with a hand-held receiver connected to a directional antenna. This helps track their exact movement. In case a radio-collared lion recurrently visits bomas at night, the lion guardians use radio telemetry as a tool to caution fellow villagers of the looming conflict.