Based in Kenya, the Living With Lions conservation organization seeks to find ways to preserve wild lions beyond the few game parks large enough to sustain an isolated population.
One Living With Lions program, the Kilimanjaro Lion Conservation Project in southern Kenya, is based on the vast, communally owned Mbirikani Group Ranch of the Maasai people. The Maasai are seminomadic herders who tend cattle, sheep and goats over more than 500 square miles of mostly open rangeland. They follow ancient practices, with family groups living in scattered communities of dung huts clustered around thorn bush corrals. Among their traditions: Young warriors called murran attain manhood after hunting and killing a lion with a spear.
On the community-owned Mbirikani Group Ranch, cattle herders have found a financial alternative to killing the lions that prey on their livestock. Through the Predator Compensation Fund (PCF) – an innovative program that provides economic incentives for conservation – the Maasai are compensated every other month at market value for livestock killed by predators such as lions, cheetahs and hyenas. Upon proof and verification of a predation, herders receive $80 for every donkey and $200 for every cow killed. Since its inception in 2003, the fund has paid claims to Mbirikani herders for nearly 750 head of livestock every year.
In a region where the predators are being slaughtered to extinction, the PCF has nearly eliminated lion killings on the ranch. Only four lions were killed on the Mbirikani Group Ranch since 2003, compared to 65 killed on neighboring ranches. The 300,000-acre Mbirikani ranch is some of the lion's last remaining habitat in the world, and perhaps the best remaining habitat outside of existing protected areas in Kenya. Lions have declined from more than one million worldwide at the beginning of the 20th century to fewer than 30,000 today. They are increasingly threatened by habitat loss and hunting.
CI is working with the Maasai and community organizations in Kenya to expand the program throughout the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem – a 2.2-million-acre area of six adjacent Maasai group ranches and four of Africa's most storied national parks, including Mt. Kilimanjaro.