National Geographic : 2013 Aug
ranches bordering Amboseli National Park, on the thornbush plains of southern Ken- ya. Since 2007 a program there called Lion Guardians has recruited Maasai warriors--- young men for whom lion killing has tradi- tionally been part of a rite of passage known as olamayio---to serve instead as lion protectors. ese men, paid salaries, trained in radiote- lemetry and GPS use, track lions on a daily basis and prevent lion attacks on livestock. The program, small but astute, seems to be succeeding: Lion killings have decreased, and the role of Lion Guardian is now prestigious within those communities. I spent a day recently with a Lion Guardian named Kamunu, roughly 30 years old, serious and steady, whose dark face tapered to a nar- row chin and whose eyes seemed permanently squinted against sentiment and delusion. He wore a beaded necklace, beaded earrings, and a red shuka wrapped around him; a Maasai dagger was sheathed on his belt at one side, a cell phone at the other. Kamunu had personally killed ve lions, he told me, all for olamayio, but he didn't intend to kill any more. He had learned that lions could be more valuable alive---in money from tourism, wages from Lion Guardians, and the food and education such cash could buy for a man's family. We walked a long circuit that very hot day, winding through acacia bush, crossing a dry riv- erbed, Kamunu following lion spoor in the dust and me following him. Probably we traipsed about 16 miles. In the morning we tracked a lone adult, recognizable to Kamunu from its big pug as a certain problematic male. When we met a long line of cows headed for water, their bells clanking, attended by several Maasai boys, Ka- munu warned the boys to stay clear of that lion. Around midday he picked up a di erent trail, very fresh, le by a female with two cubs. We saw her attened day bed in the herbage be- neath a bush. We traced her sinuous route into a grove of scrubby myrrh trees that grew thicker as we went. Kamunu moved quietly. Finally we stopped. I saw nothing but vegetation and dirt. They're very close, he explained. This is a good spot. No livestock nearby. We don't want to push any closer. We don't want to disturb them. No, we don't, I agreed. "We think they are safe here," he told me. It's more than can be said for many African lions, but at that moment, in that place, it was enough. j n National Geographic's Big Cats Initiative is dedicated to halting the decline of lions and other big cats around the world. To learn more about the projects we support, visit causeanuproar.org.