Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

Ewaso Lions Update:

The four new additions to the Westgate Conservancy region. Photo by Ewaso Lions.
The four new additions to the Westgate Conservancy region. Photo by Ewaso Lions.

Engaging communities to protect Kenya’s lions

Lions once roamed in Sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, Southwest Asia, and even India and Europe. Today, these once widely-dispersed carnivores have disappeared from all but 27 African countries and the Gir Forest area of Gujarat, India. Within Africa, lions are now extinct from approximately 80% of their historic range, and their numbers have plummeted from an estimated 200,000 a century ago to about 20,000 today. It’s believed that their populations have declined by 30-50% in the last 20 years alone. Lions are listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN, but in reality they are faring differently in different regions of Africa. For example, South African lions are Least Concern, whereas West African lions meet the IUCN criteria for Critically Endangered.

Kenya is considered a lion stronghold; however with less than 2,000 individuals remaining and ongoing population declines, they could disappear from the country in the next 20 years. This population, like others in Africa, is threatened by conflict with humans, such as retaliatory killings for livestock predation or loss of human life. Human-lion conflict is exacerbated by ongoing habitat loss and the depletion of lions’ natural prey through hunting and poaching, forcing the carnivores to then turn to livestock for food. Another emerging threat to lions is the trade in their body parts for traditional medicine in Africa and Asia.

Lions present us with an interesting conservation challenge: because they are wide-ranging, their protection cannot be guaranteed solely in protected areas, as their ranging patterns often encompass areas outside. Therefore, successful protection of Kenya’s remaining lions must take an integrated approach, one that considers not only protected areas, but also the human-dominated areas surrounding them.

Ewaso Lions, established in 2007 by Oxford PhD student Shivani Bhalla, takes a research and community-driven approach towards reducing human-carnivore conflict in the Samburu and Isiolo counties of northern Kenya. With the support of Born Free since 2010, Ewaso Lions tailors conservation programs to key demographics in the local communities; warriors, women, schoolchildren, elders, and tour operators are all engaged in lion research and conservation, as well as in the development of ways to mitigate human-carnivore conflict. Warrior Watch, for example, empowers young Samburu men (warriors) in the conservation of lions and other carnivores by training them in such areas as conservation, human-wildlife conflict mitigation, GPS usage, and data collection. This program creates ‘lion ambassadors’ and increases the ability of these young men to mitigate incidents of human-carnivore conflict. Thanks in part to this program, attitudes towards large carnivores have significantly improved. Other Ewaso Lions community programs include Mama Simba (geared towards engaging and empowering women in large carnivore conservation), Lion Kids Camp (engaging children in a 5-day wildlife education camp), Wazee Watch (training community elders), and Lion Watch (engaging the tourism and safari sector). As of September 2017, there are 18 warriors participating in Warrior Watch and 19 women in Mama Simba. Over 200 Kenyan children have been introduced to conservation thanks to the Lion Kids Camps.

Ewaso Lions also runs several research programs about lions and other carnivores, many of which intersect with the community programmes listed above. For example, observations by participants in Warrior Watch and Mama Simba help with ongoing wildlife monitoring efforts, as well as with research on incidents of human-carnivore conflict. Ewaso Lions is also using GPS collars to monitor lion dispersal, and this has already yielded exciting results; for example, the collaring of a young male in February 2017 resulted in the identification of an important lion corridor. Wildlife monitoring and patrols are ongoing: in 2017, the 25-person team (including local warriors) conducted 462 patrols, covering a distance of 3274km on foot, and recording lion tracks and scat 153 times.

In its ten years, Ewaso Lions has made a big difference in the conservation of Samburu and Isiolo’s lions. Already, there have been fewer lions and other carnivores (i.e. hyenas, cheetahs) killed in conflict with humans, and the lion population has been reported as stable or increasing since 2008. Lions, which were only temporary visitors in Westgate Community Conservancy in 2010, are now resident in the area. In fact, 4 new male lions arrived and 4 new cubs were born in April 2017. Another notable success is that local communities have an increased awareness of the importance of lions, and attitudes towards these and other large carnivores have improved. Livestock husbandry practices have also improved, which reduces loss to carnivores. With the assistance of Born Free, Ewaso Lions was able to purchase an additional vehicle and expand into Meibae Conservancy in 2017.

Although now rare, retaliatory killings of large carnivores can still pose a challenge to the mission of Ewaso Lions, especially as the Samburu and Isiolo regions face periods of instability. It is therefore very important that Ewaso Lions’ important work of conserving Kenya’s remaining lions continues.

Please consider helping us support Ewaso Lions.

Read more about Ewaso Lions here and here.

The Lion Kids Camp - photo Ewaso Lions
The Lion Kids Camp - photo Ewaso Lions
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