A day in the life of a Lion Ambassador

13 April 2023


Experience the day in the life of Lion Ambassador Joseph Mutinda, who helps local people in Kaningo in Kenya find solutions to conflict. Saving Meru’s Giants Officer Alois Mweu reports.

“Livestock is our main source of livelihood in Kaningo and its environs”, says Mutinda, our locally employed Lion Ambassador, based at Kaningo Location.

head and shoulders image of Joseph Mutinda

Lion Ambassador, Joseph Mutinda Mwoki

This is one of Born Free’s project areas close to Meru National Park and Mutinda is on the front line of human-wildlife conflict. “We’re facing a big challenge of livestock depredation by lions, as well as hyenas.”

The horrific events of one fateful night still linger in his mind. Everybody in Ngamione village was fast asleep when, suddenly, a loud voice was heard from the furthest end of the village. It was the voice of a woman, “My goats are finished, help! help!” The voice was very clear, but no one responded at first.

The area is sparsely populated and people were deep in their sleep. The woman called again and Mutinda was among the first people to respond, equipped with a torch and a phone.

On arrival, he was met with horrendous scenes, three stray hyenas had killed seventeen goats inside the bomas. The wife to the owner of the boma was lying speechless on the ground, wailing and lamenting. Her only hope for the family was gone. According to Mutinda, livestock has turned out to be the sole source of income in the area due to the prolonged droughts that have made it impossible to do crop farming.

The residents of Ngamione were angered by this incident, swearing to retaliate in a bid to revenge for the damages caused by the hyenas. “This is not the first time such an attack has happened in this village. Last year I lost 26 goats,” says an infuriated old man. It was time for Mutinda to act swiftly to prevent the planning of any kind of retaliation. This he knew how to do. He immediately convened a meeting and started by apologising for the damage caused by the hyenas.

Expertly trained by Born Free, Mutinda first explained some of the reasons that have forced carnivores to stray outside the park, such as reduced prey densities due to (illegal) bushmeat harvesting, habitat encroachment and destruction for firewood and charcoal burning. He told the people about the local authority’s compensation procedures and immediately called the Kenya Wildlife Service’s Community Warden to report the incident. The Community Warden promised to come to assess the damage and bring compensation forms. This calmed down the residents, giving them a little hope. No retaliation happened and they all promised to protect and do their best to peacefully coexist with wildlife.

It was time for everybody to get back to their household. A few friends remained on the scene to keep the victim company until the arrival of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). It was now three o’clock in the morning and Mutinda, exhausted, was keen to go and sleep for the remaining part of the night. But, some moments after he arrived home, he received an urgent phone call from an unknown caller. “Lions, lions, we need your help.” It was another mission for him, this time in Kisiuni village of Kamuthanga sub location – a village far from his.

Mutinda immediately called KWS for assistance. Luckily, they were already on their way to Ngamione village to attend to the hyena attack. However, following this greater emergency, they immediately diverted to Kisiuni. With all the dangers attached to the night, Mutinda set off on his new work motorcycle to Kisiuni, arriving a few minutes after the KWS team. The lions had already dashed back into the park but, tragically, had killed three donkeys and injured one. What a tough night for Mutinda and the KWS team. As you can imagine, calming down a furious mob was not easy, but they eventually managed. The Community Warden addressed the people at length and explained the compensation process.

By now people were starting to wake for the day and Mutinda decided to accompany the warden to Ngamione village, where the seventeen goats had been killed. They held a meeting with the community. The Warden expressed his regrets for what had happened, and explained the compensation procedures. Mutinda then told the community about the mitigation measures Born Free is undertaking to reduce conflict between people and carnivores and ensure a peaceful coexistence between wildlife and the community. 

For example, Born Free is currently piloting the use of flashing deterrent lights to scare away predators from livestock bomas. We place eight solar-powered lights around these nighttime enclosures which flash intermittently, creating the illusion that someone is walking around with a torch.

We are also trialing the use of ‘eye cow’ as a mitigation measure – painting eyes on the rump of cows. Lions are stalkers and ambush their prey. The painted eyes confuse the lions on whether they are being watched by the cows from both directions. So far, we haven’t experienced a livestock depredation case in the 24 bomas where we have installed the lights and the 135 cows which we have repainted and monitored for four months.

Image © www.georgelogan.co.uk