year 2, week 32: this week i'm gonna... save lions
Among the Samburu people, a pastoral tribe of north-central Kenya, warriors have traditionally hunted lions to prove their bravery or to protect their cattle, which form the basis of wealth and social rank in the community. But for nine years now, Jeneria Lekilelei, a Samburu warrior, has been doing the opposite, working to protect lions from being killed by his own people.
Lekilelei, age 27, dropped out of high school many years ago for lack of funds and most of his adolescent years were spent herding the cattle within the Westgate Conservancy of Kenya. In 2008, when he was 19, he joined Ewaso Lions, a conservation group based in the Conservancy, as a field data collector. At the time, he knew nothing about lions and found the idea of protecting the large carnivores shocking.
Founded in 2007 by conservation biologist Shivani Bhalla, Ewaso Lions works to protect Kenya’s wildlife by involving communities in solutions that promote peaceful coexistence between people and wild animals. According to Ewaso, Africa’s lion population has declined by some 90 percent over the past 75 years, primarily due to loss of habitat and human-animal conflict. In Kenya, there are fewer than 2,000 lions left.
Bhalla quickly realized that understanding lion movements throughout the park and beyond was essential to the conservation work. “We’d see lions, then they’d disappear. Clearly, they were going outside the park,” Bhalla says. In need of more information in order to create solutions for protecting lions, she shifted her focus from the park to surrounding community lands.
Lekilelei came up with the idea of recruiting more Samburu warriors to expand Ewaso Lion's fieldwork program. Nobody, after all, knows the landscape better than they do.
Ewaso Lions is dedicated to conserving lions and other large carnivores by promoting co-existence between people and wildlife. They work hand-in-hand with local communities to provide education, training, and improved conservation practices that help people and wildlife. Ewaso Lions uses sound science to help guide the long-term conservation of lions across community conservancies and protected areas in northern Kenya.
To learn more about Ewaso Lions, please check out the video below:
In 2010, Ewaso Lions established Warrior Watch, a program of about twenty Samburu youth engaged as ambassadors for wildlife. The warriors are trained on how to identify individual lions, monitor problem animals, collect data, and conduct wildlife surveillance through GPS, camera traps, vehicle patrols, and old-fashioned tracking.
Dressed in their traditional attire and beaded jewelry, the expanded team of warriors conduct bush patrols every day, liaise with herders, carry out anti-poaching work, and spread conservation awareness in what has become an extension of their traditional role as guardians of the community. In return, the warriors receive stipends, meals, and basic education (since many of them did not complete school).
The warriors have developed a special bond with the lions of Samburu. Lekilelei says, “Any time I lose a lion, it's like losing a member of my family. If there are no lions in Samburu, then there is no more life." Now serving as the field operations and community manager, Lekilelei participates in discussions with the local elders who are the decision-makers of the community. Lekilelei and the Ewaso team also interact with women and children who have historically been left out of the conservation discussion.
“I am very proud to see how we have changed the whole face of the community towards conservation,” states Bhalla. “Warriors who were hunters or killers of lions have become conservationists.”
Notes for this week:
- World Lion Day is August 10th!
- Our collective givetwig donation will sponsor a member of Warrior Watch protecting lions for a year.
- For more information regarding Ewaso Lions, please check out their website.
this week i'm gonna donate to Ewaso Lions.