Passion Points: Giving Back
Seeing lions in the bush is such an expected part of many safaris that most Westerners don’t realize just how perilously close the King of the Jungle is to extinction. “People think there isn’t a problem,” says New York philanthropist and lion expert Tom Hill. “But the reality is that lions are being systematically driven to extinction by the Maasai.” The lion population, he explains, has declined by an estimated 90 percent in the past two decades, with fewer than 21,000 lions remaining in all of Africa. And, he adds, “The remaining prides have become completely isolated in game parks, where they can’t migrate freely.”
Hill and Richard Bonham, the great African guide and owner of Ol Donyu Wuas lodge, are fighting to reverse that trend in Kenya’s 3,700-square-mile Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem with an innovative program: the privately-funded Predator Compensation Fund, which they founded in 2003. The partners, who have houses near each other in the Chyulu Hills on land they lease from the Maasai, recognize the economic underpinnings of the current situation. As the Maasai have become more Westernized and less nomadic, they’ve become intolerant to livestock loss, poisoning entire prides to protect their cows and sheep. And there are cultural forces at work as well. “There is nothing more central to the culture of the Maasai than a young man killing a lion with a spear,” says Hill.
Hill and Bonham worked with wildlife conservationists and Maasai leaders to create a series of financial incentives to stop lion slaughter. The Predator Compensation Fund, which depends on self-regulation by the Maasai, pays livestock owners full market value for lost cows, goats, sheep or donkeys. (Owners must prove the animal in question was killed by a lion, leopard, cheetah or elephant, and they are docked for poor animal husbandry, lack of fencing or unprotected livestock.) In addition, says Hill, “we’re trying to stabilize the lions’ migration path by protecting the land between game parks. To do that, we have 100 guys in uniform, carrying guns, trained to provide a police function.”
Their work is an ongoing struggle, but the results so far have been encouraging. However, for the program to succeed, Hill says, they will need ongoing funding, continued local support and, most important, for the rest of the world to recognize the gravity of the situation. We can only hope this happens before it is too late. To learn more or contribute to the fund, contact Tom Hill at email@example.com.
Special benefit for Indagare members: Hill’s house, located on a 300,000-acre wilderness preserve, is available for rent; a portion of the fee goes to support lion conservation. To read more, click here.
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