It's incredible how few people know that Africa's lions are disappearing. We hear a lot about the threats facing elephants and rhinos, but lions are quietly slipping away. Lions have declined by 90% in just the last 75 years. One of the main drivers is conflict with people, primarily over livestock depredation. When lions attack livestock, pastoralists may retaliate and kill lions.
In Kenya, there are less than 2,000 lions — and yet Kenya is one of the best places to see lions. The Masai Mara is iconic for its large prides and coalitions of big males. In Samburu National Reserve, where I work, seeing lions within the spectacular arid landscape is unforgettable.
Samburu is my personal favorite park in Africa. The Ewaso Nyiro River serves as a lifeline for the ecosystem, drawing wildlife and people to its waters. There's always something amazing happening along the banks: lions scrapping with crocodiles, the famous Samburu elephant families coming to drink, reticulated giraffes filing by, even local people wading across with their cattle. It's not hard to escape the mini buses, and there are fantastic places for picnics along the river.
Just outside the Reserve are community conservancies, where local communities live alongside wildlife. These areas are not only worth visiting to experience the rich Samburu culture, but this is where the crux of lion conservation lies. Protected areas like national parks and reserves are not large enough for big cat populations to endure, so it's critical for lions to be able to survive in community areas.
The Ewaso Lions project is promoting ways local people can coexist with wildlife in northern Kenya. Rather than deciding what's best for the lions and telling local people what to do (and what not to do), we take a different approach. Our strategy starts with asking local people what they want. Then
we design conservation and research programs that work for both people and lions.
For example, we recently started working with Samburu women to get them engaged in conservation--we call it Mama Simba. The women told us, "We want education." So we set up a weekly schooling session. The women are learning how to read, write, and do arithmetic which will help them in their villages. In return, they are spreading a pro-wildlife conservation message to their families, and helping turn around negative attitudes towards lions and other carnivores.
Conservation has to be in-line with the current needs of the people living alongside wildlife. Local people have to benefit. Responsible tourism is another way people can benefit. Sasaab Lodge, for example, gives a portion of each bed night to the community, and that money goes towards school bursaries, water projects, and healthcare.
I can't imagine Africa without lions. I encourage people to go on a safari and experience lions for themselves. It can be life changing. It was actually a safari that inspired me to pursue a career in conservation. My father was a safari guide in the '70's and took our family to Kenya when I was a teenager. The combination of wildlife, landscape, and local culture in Samburu changed something inside me.
My hope is that people visit Kenya and fall in love with big cats too, and help in some way to keep them from disappearing. You can also help the Ewaso Lions by visiting our website.
Experience African lion conservation that works for people and lions on our Kenya's Private Reserves Safari