Compensation programme helps save lions in Maasai country

Posted by Laura Grant on July 9, 2007
Posted in Green News

Maasai warriors in their distinctive red robes are one of the iconic images of East Africa. They’ve herded their cattle across the plains, living harmoniously with the wild animals, for centuries – or so it would seem. But nothing is ever as simple as it looks. At a community-owned ranch In the Tsavo-Amboseli ecosystem, a vast unfenced region in southern Kenya, the Maasai lose about two head of livestock a day to lions and other predators. To protect their precious cattle, the warriors used to kill lions. And who can blame them, cattle are their livelihood? But a compensation programme set up by the Ol Donyo Wuas Trust has convinced the Maasai communities on Mbirikani ranch that it is possible to live in peace with lions.

According to Conservation International, which joined forces with the trust this year, there are fewer than 30,000 lions left in the wild – down from 200,000 in the 1980s – and they live “mostly in parks and protected areas too small to maintain viable populations”. So something had to be done to save the free-ranching lions of the Tsavo-Amboseli ecosystem.

Since 2003 the herders at Mbirikani ranch have been compensated the market value of livestock taken by lions and other predators. In exchange they must not kill predators. The Predator Compensation Programme, on average, pays claims for more than 700 head of livestock a year. And the programme has reduced significantly the number of lions killed by Maasai warriors on the ranch, Conservation International reports.

A neighbouring ranch joined the programme last year and the plan now is to replicate the programme at other group ranches in the Tsavo-Amboseli ecosystem.

“We must expand geographically as fast as possible, or we will have won the battle but lost the war,” said Richard Bonham, chairman of the Ol Donyo Wuas Trust. “A lion that leaves our pilot test area and gets killed on a neighbouring group ranch because that community doesn’t have this programme is just as dead and brings us that much closer to an unsustainable lion population in this ecosystem.”

The compensation programme is part of a broader initiative that brings jobs, education and other benefits to the Maasai community of Mbirikani. In 2006, the conservation model reportedly contributed more than $150,000 in wages, predator compensation payments, and scholarships to the community.

Read the full story and watch a video about the programme on the Conservation International website.

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