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Lion Defenders

Culturally-driven lion killings are a major issue in some of the landscapes in which we work. Addressing these killings poses a particular challenge, as it requires a deep understanding of the motivations for such events, and the potential levers for reducing them.

We have spent a lot of time with traditional pastoralists, gaining understanding of exactly why they go on traditional hunts, and what the benefits of such hunts are. Interestingly, it was revealed that the warrior who first spear the lion on a hunt receives gifts of cattle from the community - they can gain 2- cattle, worth several thousand dollars, from spearing a single lion. The warriors explained that it was one of the few ways that men could get cattle, and that it also provided them with status within the community.

To address these killings, we worked with Panthera and Lion Guardians, who have dealt with very similar issues with the Maasai in Kenya. We worked together to develop a culturally appropriate warrior engagement programme, but from lion conservation instead of lion killing. Together we initiated a Lion Guardians model in the area, where warriors are employed by the project to patrol across large zones of village land. As Lion Defenders they help to retrieve lost livestock, which is a valuable community service and also prevents them being killed by carnivores, which would be likely to lead to lion hunts.

They also reinforce traditional livestock enclosures with thorn bush if people cannot afford wire bomas. Crucially, they look for any signs of lions in their zones, and if they are detected, they warn the community and help provide additional protection, often by physically chasing away lions if they come close to households. This work ensures that they are seen as fulfilling their traditional warrior role by protecting the community, while also having a direct conservation benefit.

We currently employ Lion Defenders who patrol over 400km2 of village land in the Ruaha Landscape. All of the Lion Defenders are hired directly from the local communities and the areas they cover are within village land.

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