In northern Kenya, lions are losing habitat and being killed by local communities at a rate that threatens their survival. But there is a surprising method to reverse this trend: engaging the people who once posed a risk to lions, and make them ambassadors of conservation.
Samburu warriors have long been one of the most neglected groups in conservation decision-making in northern Kenya. They were often blamed for the killing of lions and other wildlife. But warriors know more about wildlife than any other group in their communities. They are the true “eyes and ears” of the bush.
Jeneria Lekilelei, a member of the Ewaso Lions field team, is a Samburu warrior himself. In 2010 he had a revelation: the only way to succeed in protecting lions would be to engage his own peers. Perhaps he could inspire them to be ambassadors of conservation like him, and to keep lions safe. This was how Ewaso Lions’ flagship programme – Warrior Watch – was born.
Warrior Watch encourages Samburu warriors to become engaged in conservation and promote peaceful coexistence with carnivores. When a lion kills a herder’s camel, our Warriors arrive on the scene to help, and use their peacekeeping skills to stop the herder from retaliating and killing the lion. Warriors also teach their communities how to better protect livestock from lions, and to reduce conflict from occurring in the first place. This utilizes Samburu warriors’ traditional role in their culture as protectors and guardians.
But is it working? Last December, lions returned to an area where they had been missing for nearly two years. This area was not a national park, but a community area where Warrior Watch had been working to promote conservation. The presence of lions was an indication that they felt safe enough to return, partly in thanks to local people’s tolerance that Warrior Watch helped create.
One such lioness was Naramat, who settled in the areawith her two-year-old her old son, Lentim. With the arrival of the rains, however, Naramat headed off towards the hills, an area with many human settlements and a lot of livestock. Concerned that the lion might be tempted by the livestock and then encounter trouble with the herders, our Warriors tracked her and set up a temporary campto monitor her and keep her safe.
It is the dedication of these young Warriors that keeps lions like Naramat safe in an increasingly crowded landscape. And while the Warriors were tracking Naramat, they discovered the reason she had headed off to the hills: she had given birth to two lion cubs!
“Warriors are the eyes and ears in the bush and involving them is key to the conservation and security of [my] region’s wildlife and people” – Jeneria Lekilelei
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org, www.ewasolions.org