Lion population on the rise as morans take up ‘Maasai Olympics,’ become wildlife guardians

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Posted  Saturday, March 29   2014 at  11:48

It was evident from the long chats I had with the morans in the Amboseli areas that killing a lion remains an attractive goal. Some expressed displeasure that older people — who had themselves killed lions — wanted the younger morans to stop the killings even in the face of livestock predation.

“I became a moran at a time when our elders had set rules against lion killing; I feel bad each time a lion kills a cow,” said Lelian Lodidio.

He is one of the morans employed by Lion Guardians, to monitor predator movements, mitigate conflict and prevent lion hunts in Eselenkei Group Ranch. He acknowledged that his job allows him to retain his long braids and the traditional regalia.

The presence of NGOs — one that runs a compensation scheme and another that employs morans as lion protectors — and a scholarships project for local children have exerted positive pressure against lion hunts. Added to this has been the rising awareness on the illegality of killing lions.

To demonstrate how far these factors have influenced behaviour, Big Life Foundation’s researchers did a survey last year in which they sampled 248 households in the Mbirikani Group Ranch. They found that 163 of the households had stopped killing lions because they were sure of being compensated, while 74 feared arrest.

In addition, there has been a deliberate attempt to redirect morans’ attention from lion hunts to other ventures. Big Life Trust has started a moran education initiative that engages them in sports such as throwing spears and rungus (clubs), jumping, running and athletics.

The games started in 2008, and have expanded into the “Maasai Olympics” with David Rudisha, World 800 metres champion, as the patron.

Morans who win in different categories are awarded cows, goats and sheep. The winner of the 5,000 metres in 2012 was sponsored to participate in last year’s New York Marathon. The next “olympics” are planned for December 13.

In February 2012, eight elders visited Tanzania-based Chief Oloibon to request him to issue a decree banning the killing of lions by morans.

The Oloibon accepted the request and issued a curse on any moran who would kill a lion. This inspired the making of the film There will always be Lions, which won accolades for bearing the best conservation message in 2012. The film teaches warriors that their lives are dependent on wildlife, water, trees and other natural resources.

Radical move

“Taking the lion hunt from the Maasai people’s culture was a radical move as it outlawed a practice that had been in existence for more than 500 years,” says Tom Hill, a trustee of Big Life Foundation.

His organisation merged with Maasailand Preservation Trust in 2010, and initiated the Predator Compensation Programme 11 years ago at Mbirikani Group Ranch.

Hill said the compensation scheme originated from the local people who are expected to cover 30 per cent of the annual compensation kitty.

“Everything in conservation is funded by donors; the scheme is an inexpensive venture that costs $10 per person per year,” he added.

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