<p>Photo: Male adult lion</p>

Lions are threatened throughout most of their African range. But nowhere is their condition as perilous as in Kenyan Maasailand, where this large male was photographed. Lions there, which number less than 150, are under imminent threat of extinction from Maasai herdsmen thought to be retaliating against prides who prey on their cattle.

National Geographic is working to avert the big cats' extinction with the Big Cats Initiative, a comprehensive program that supports innovative projects with quick results for saving big cats, anti-poaching programs, projects that test new technology and more.

Photograph by John Eastcott and Yva Momatiuk

Maasailand Lions—A Desperate Situation

As part of the Big Cats Initiative, National Geographic is helping avert a potential conservation disaster: the complete loss of lions in and around Amboseli National Park, one of Kenya’s most important tourist destinations. As they teeter on the brink of extinction, these lions do not have the luxury of time. The decline in the lion population in this region has reached a critical status that needs addressing on a major scale.

In partnership with Explorers-in-Residence Beverly and Dereck Joubert, filmmakers and conservationists who have worked in some of Africa’s most remote wildlife areas for more than 25 years, National Geographic is committed to this urgent conservation issue. National Geographic  provided an emergency $150,000 grant to the Maasailand Preservation Trust, co-led by Richard Bonham and Tom Hill. The grant aids the trust’s Predator Compensation Fund, which provides compensation to local Maasai herdsmen for livestock killed by lions in and around Amboseli National Park.

Beyond the Lions

Lions are more than an iconic symbol, more than a tourist draw to Africa’s savanna. As large predators, their status indicates the health of ecosystems. According to Dereck Joubert, “if they—the driving force—are removed, then the ecosystem’s functionality is ultimately affected.”

What results can be a chain reaction where other ecosystems are affected, including humans and our own means of survival. It becomes not just a conservation issue, but a humanitarian one as well.

Why Numbers Are So Low

Although there are no reliable data on exact numbers of lions from earlier years, researchers agree that current numbers represent a dramatic drop in the lion population in this region. Why the large decline? Lions are being killed at an alarming rate. Without an abundance of prey to feed on, such as wildebeest, lions are leaving protected lands to hunt the domestic livestock of the Maasai tribe, who then spear and poison the lions to death. Says Dereck Joubert: “When lions raid cattle, the herdsmen understandably retaliate. Lions are eating the one means of survival the villagers have.”

National Geographic and the Jouberts, in partnership with the Maasailand Preservation Trust, want to create a meaningful solution to save these majestic animals while helping the Maasai community—and serving as a model program for other conservation efforts.

Solutions and Hope

The situation in and around Amboseli is grave, but there is hope. In order to stop the killings, the Maasai need to be compensated immediately for their cattle losses.

Pilot projects, such as a previous Mbirikani Predator Compensation Fund (PCF), have shown that if the health and livelihood of the community are secured, there is a greater chance to protect the lions. By offering immediate compensation for cattle losses, the pressure to kill lions as a form of retaliation is alleviated. Areas absent of any compensation program see significantly greater lion kills by local tribespeople.

In an area where about 20 lions were killed yearly in retaliation, the implementation of the PCF resulted in eighteen months without a single incident.

Once lions are no longer viewed as a threat, a dialogue with the communities about conservation can begin.

National Geographic and the Jouberts believe that helping the Maasai through education efforts and conservation awareness, in addition to compensation, will ensure a way for the lions of Africa’s savanna to survive. "The great thing is that there are solutions,” says Dereck Joubert. "We know already that this can work."

Add Your Support Today

Take the first step toward saving the lions of Kenya’s Maasailand. Outside contributions will not only pay for a lion’s life, but the money raised will be used to support the following:

  • Education for students and adults
  • Animal husbandry solutions
  • Jobs for the Maasai people
  • Community conservation efforts

It is time now not just for public awareness, but for public action. By working together, we can prevent further lion population decline while helping the Maasai as well. Although we call the work being undertaken a conservation effort, what we are truly facing is a conservation emergency.

Join National Geographic’s efforts to save the Maasai lions. Donate today!

See our donor recognition wall listing donors who have helped the Maasai lions. National Geographic is grateful for your support!

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