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Part of a special feature focused on celebrating and recognizing the contribution and impact of Aboriginal Peoples in Newfoundland and Labrador and highlighting contemporary topics and opportunities related to Aboriginal Peoples worldwide. This feature coincides with Aboriginal Peoples Week running March 21-24.

By Janet Harron

An associate professor of geography at Memorial is playing a small role in a big project helping to turn African lion killers into lion guardians.

Under the direction of Dr. Leela Hazzah, whose non-profit organization Lion Guardians employs 80 guardians throughout East Africa, Dr. Alistair Bath works with Maasai lion killers outside of protected areas near Amboseli in Kenya.

The young Maasai warriors, some of whom have killed several lions before becoming a lion guardian, are proven excellent lion trackers, can get close to the big cats and have the earned respect of their community—and therefore can control others who may wish to kill a lion.

1/ Meeting in the shade

Just outside the local village, Dr. Alistair Bath listens and learns from Eric, Saitoti, Nairoua, Nairenge, Alaitotioni, Kamunu and Alamatiani about the current challenges facing the community and the issues with lions and other carnivores in the area. Welcomed by the community with traditional Kenyan tea with sweet milk, they are pictured drinking together while discussing the key issues and the business for the day.

Photo: Colette Phillips

2/ Walking and tracking

With their tea finished, the group heads out to look for signs of lions and do the work of a lion guardian. Kamunu is very familiar with the land and shares his knowledge with his younger brother Alamatiani, who has also been hired as a lion guardian. Eric, who is heavily involved in the project, accompanies Dr. Bath and his son Joshua as they walk in the heat, passing wildebeest and an elephant along the way in their search for lions.

Photo: Colette Phillips

3/ Kamunu

Kamunu is a young Maasai warrior who killed several lions before becoming a lion guardian. Kamunu talks about how he “milks the lions like he does his cows,” meaning today he realizes the lions provide him employment and a sense of importance. He understands the need for conservation and the importance of his new role in co-existing with this large carnivore.

Photo: Colette Phillips

4/ Lion tracks

Not long into their walk, Dr. Bath's group encounters lion tracks. The Maasai explain that the lions chased a giraffe but the giraffe got away. On foot, with no weapons, they continue to follow the fresh tracks.

Photo: Colette Phillips

5/ Radio telemetry

Lion guardians also help radio collar animals. They use radio telemetry to track lions by the signal sent by their radio collars.

Photo: Colette Phillips

6/ Recording GPS

A lion guardian plays several roles. Here, Kamunu (right) and Alamatiani help with biological research tracking lions and then taking GPS locations of tracks. This will help biologists better understand the movements of the lions which is particularly important in areas that are heavily grazed by cattle.

Photo: Colette Phillips

7/ Notifying herders

Upon understanding where the lions are today and where they are going, Kamunu notifies the herders in the area where the lions are present so that they may graze their livestock in different areas to avoid potential conflict. In this way, co-existence between people and lions is being achieved as conflicts and livestock depredation are minimized.

Photo: Colette Phillips

8/ Interacting with herders

A lion guardian has many duties. Sometimes they find lost herders, often children, and return them to the village. Sometimes they find lost cattle and bring them safely home before large carnivores can take them. Here, Alamatiani talks with two young herders and shares his knowledge of where the lions are today. No cattle will be taken from this herd on this day.

Photo: Colette Phillips

9/ Acacia thorny bush

When not tracking lions, lion guardians use the branches of the thorny acacia trees to reinforce bomas or villages. With the proper use of these branches, predators can be prevented from entering villages and killing livestock at night.

Photo: Colette Phillips

10/ Young Murran warrior

Perhaps the most challenging duty to perform as a lion guardian is to talk with the other communities and warriors, who often may wish to kill a lion, either in a retaliatory act because a lion has killed a cow or as part of a ceremonial act to become a man. Conflict resolution techniques are needed to diffuse an angry group that may wish revenge on the recent death of their cow. To prevent such a lion hunt, lion guardians express the benefits of co-existence with lions rather than conflict.

Photo: Colette Phillips

A lion guardian plays several roles, which include helping with biological research tracking lions, such as taking GPS locations of tracks; notifying herders where lions are so they may graze their livestock in areas to avoid potential conflicts with lions; finding lost cattle and sometimes lost herders, often children; reinforcing bomas/villages with the thorny acacia branches to prevent predators from entering villages and killing livestock at night; and working with the other communities and warriors.

Listening and learning

Dr. Bath works in the field of human dimensions in wildlife management, a research area that involves listening and learning about beliefs, values, attitudes and behaviours of those people most affected by the resource and who can affect the resource the most. In this case, those most affected by the resource are the lions and those who can affect the resource the most are the Maasai, he says.

Dr. Bath has been working with Dr. Hazzah to better understand the predictors of lion killing, which are mainly determined by attitudes toward lions, values and beliefs, including the defence of property, and socio-cultural killing intentions. According to Dr. Bath, influencing attitudes may help reduce lion killing.

Understanding motivations

Lions have significantly declined across Africa and most of this mortality is deliberate killing by people. While motivations and characteristics of licenced hunters in a North American context are well studied, little information is known regarding those individuals who kill an animal illegally or as part of a more traditional lifestyle.

However, in Kenya Maasailand, lion killing, although illegal, is openly discussed and celebrated with those who kill lions gaining respect and prestige within their communities and being given a lion name. Dr. Bath’s work in understanding the motivations of lion killing and building relationships to achieve lion conservation exemplifies the research and applied nature of human dimensions in wildlife management.

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