Photograph by Aditya Swami

Picture of man in lion hunting attire
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Where: Tanzania

Grantee: Emily Fitzherbert

Biologist Emily Fitzherbert has devoted her career to the study of human­–wildlife interactions in the developing world and the creation of innovative and feasible solutions to the conflicts that arise.

In many pockets of Africa, lions are killed for preying on poorly protected livestock, but in Tanzania’s Katavi National Park there is a new development: the manipulation of cultural tradition.

Fitzherbert’s research showed that the cultural traditions of the Sukuma agro-pastoralists living around Katavi are being twisted to incentivize the killing of lions for personal gain. In Sukuma culture, like many other communities in East Africa, there is a tradition for lion killers to visit households, perform a “lion dance,” and be rewarded with gifts for averting predation on the valuable livestock herds. In recent years, some men venture inside the national park to kill a lion and reap the rewards even though no livestock loss has occurred. Fortunately, members of the local community have begun to refuse to reward these “fake” dancers.

The WASIMA (Watu, Simba na Mazingira—People, Lions and Environment) campaign, with support from the Big Cats Initiative, seeks to empower this grassroots initiative against illegal lion killing in western Tanzania. WASIMA works with local communities and the Sungusungu (a local governance policing institution) to institute new village bylaws, to enhance environmental knowledge, and to strengthen grassroots policing of both lion killers and those who reward them.

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