Tolerance defined means the capacity to endure or allow (restraint from action). Acceptance is more of a state of mind; a favorable approval or belief in something. With respect to community buy-in and retaliatory killings, would you say the view of those influenced by the LG program is closer to tolerance or to acceptance of lions? Is this an important distinction? Why or why not?

Leela: It is quite an important distinction. I believe acceptance is the ultimate goal, but often tolerance is just much more realistic and attainable; however, both are exceptionally difficult to quantify. Many of the LGs (some who have killed multiple lions in the past) they have reached the acceptance level where they now talk about lions as part of their family. When a lioness has newborn cubs a few LGs have said something about feeling like a proud father. Another example is a male lion, Sangale, who was revered by many of the LGs and greater community, but was poisoned by an outsider. One week after Sangale was killed, the LG who was responsible for monitoring him named his new born son, Sangale. These examples I provide supersede basic tolerance of lions, and I think illustrate a level of acceptance. 

Stephanie Dolrenry and Lion Guardians collar a lion. Photo courtesy of Philip Briggs

Please describe the evolution of thought of a typical young Maasai warrior from his first encounter with the Lino Guardians conservation program to his first patrol as a Lion Guardian.

Stephanie: When I first meet warriors out in the bush as I’m out tracking or moving between places, they are inquisitive and a bit disbelieving that I am so interested in when and where they saw lions. They love to jump in the Landcruiser and go looking for lions together. For many it is their first time in a vehicle and their first time near a foreigner, so they can be shy but enthusiastic.

When we get to the lions, new warriors always get very excited as we are able to get quite close in a vehicle and safely watch the lions. There is a lot of clucking and whistling that goes on upon a warrior’s first ‘safe’ sighting of lions. We talk about the lions, who the individuals are, where they’ve been, how old they are and the methods used to age them as well as the methods used to dart and collar them. I show the new warriors the radio telemetry, GPS and other equipment we use. The first outing with new warriors is always exciting and lots of fun for both sides (biologist and warrior).

When I drop them off, I give them the Lion Guardian phone number so they can call next time they find lions. And so it begins…. They call, biologist responds, they prove they are dedicated and excited about the job and protecting lions, they get a position as a Lion Guardian and next thing you know years have gone by and they are now men and the lions are like their cattle—they’ve become attached to the individuals as together we’ve watched them go through trials and tribulations, times of plenty and times of hunger

How have the Lion Guardians contributed to body of scientific knowledge of lions?

      Guardians use telemetry to track lions from a distance.
      Photo courtesy of Philip Briggs

Stephanie: I am currently working on a paper that shows how accurate the Guardians are at reporting on the lions and delves into the immense increase in data and knowledge we’ve gained on a very secretive and previously hard-to-study lion population. We’ve been able to get accurate counts of the lion population across ecosystem (we’re not finding any ‘new’ individuals), we now get more spatial locations on uncollared and collared but hard-to-find individual lions which has led to an increase in known ranges for the lions. We get more visual observations than ever before which has enabled me to calculate association patterns, group sizes, cub numbers and genders, increased accuracy on survival, etc. etc. Also, our prey observations have nearly tripled due to the observations made by the Lion Guardians – there are more eyes and ears in the bush and across the ecosystem. It is really exciting. To my knowledge, this is the most in-depth study of a persecuted lion population living on community lands and it is mostly due to the dedicated efforts of the Lion Guardians.

What role has technology played in the success and/or training of the Lion Guardians? Secondly, have your trainees or the Lion Guardians used technology in a way that has surprised you?

Stephanie: I guess I would answer that in the reverse manner.Yes, the Lion Guardians have taken to technology in a much faster and enthusiastic manner than I anticipated. They love it and take immense satisfaction from learning how to use technology. It also gives them a sense of prestige which they love to show off to their communities (and to pretty ladies). Sometimes, a group of Guardians and I will have been out tracking all day and will go into a nearby town for refreshments and the Guardians will take the telemetry receiver and antennae and get on top of the vehicle to track for lions. Even though the chance of getting a signal is slim, they just love showing off their skills.

Just as different societies and cultures have different approaches to conservation, they also have different reasons for conserving nature. For some it might be economic. Others might feel a moral obligation to protect nature while others who live close to the land might seek balance with the natural world. I’m wondering how the Maasai express their desire to preserve the natural world and how have you adapted your strategies to fit the Maasai view of nature? 

Leela: Lions have always been an important part of Maasai culture, so to many a life without lions seems unfathomable.  But the Amboseli Maasai have now born witness to the extirpation of rhinos from their area.  Many of them regret this and are aware that their fathers played an integral part in this extirpation, just as they themselves have been playing a part in the decline of lions.  They have said that they do not want to be the ones responsible for having been the cause of their children having to live in a land with no lions.  Before our work in the area, no one had an idea of how many lions were in the area, but the general consensus was that the number was somewhere in the hundreds.  Our work with the LG’s has allowed us to positively identify and count each lion living in the ecosystem, and the Lion Guardianss and all the other ecosystem stakeholders have been shocked to find out that the number is actually fewer than 100.  We are now using this awareness to help create a sense of urgency and accountability.

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