It has now been more than two months since we began our expansion into the Sinya area in Tanzania. This has been a conflict prone area for a very long time and over decades of the Amboseli ecosystem lions that have crossed into Tanzania have been killed in this stretch over the past many years. This is a key factor for our choice of this area for our expansion after the community leaders requested our assistance to mitigate conflict. Our newly recruited Lion Guardians have now been fully trained by Kisimir, a seasoned Lion Guardian from Mbirikani Kenya, and they have been performing incredibly well. They have learned so much within a short period that we look to the future with hope!
October 27th was a completely different and difficult day that tested their newly acquired skills, their strength and their bravery. A male lion named Shaka (also known as Kip) crossed into Tanzania after being evicted from his normal territory near Amboseli National Park by a pair of male lions. Shaka and lioness (and her two cubs) killed two cows that had been lost in the bush. In the late afternoon the murrans (warriors) searching for their missing cows came across the lions with the carcasses; the lions ran away. The murrans rushed home to report the attack on the cows. The cows’ owners got very angry and started calling for a hunt. One of the new Lion Guardians heard about the calls for the hunt at 10 pm that night and immediately called Kisimir for guidance. Kisimir traveled by motorbike to the area of conflict and he and the new Lion Guardians stayed in the community until 3 am trying to talk down angry livestock owners who wanted to take revenge on their dead cows and also conferring with the local elders to garner their support to stop the impending hunt. But even though they got the support of the elders, it is a very difficult task to attempt to quell the fire in an angry warriors’ hearts. At 6 am people from Sinya and its surrounding areas started congregating. By 10 am there were over 150 heated warriors armed with spears determined to follow the tracks of the lions and impart justice to the thieves who had stolen the lives of their precious livestock and to protect their remaining livestock from further attacks.
The hunters were more than 12 hours behind the lions and following tracks is a difficult business. In a move that confused the murrans, the lions separated and the female and her cubs split off, heading in the opposite direction from Shaka. The hunt decided to follow Shaka. At one point they managed to come close enough to him to throw their spears but they missed and he bolted away. The party resumed tracking, but the work was long and hot so in the late afternoon they took a break to find water. At this point, many of the warriors, with energetic prompting from the Lion Guardians, decided to give up the hunt and return home, but 30 warriors chose to continue the hunt. The Lion Guardians and game scouts had been following the hunt closely all day, trying in vain to dissuade the hunters from their blood mission, but the now reduced hunting party threatened the Lion Guardians and scouts with bodily harm if they continued to interfere. The unarmed Guardians moved away from the hunt, tracking it and the lion from a safe distance.
It was now approaching early evening and all were tired, including the persecuted lion. The hunting group came upon a cluster of acacia bush where they thought Shaka must be hiding and started throwing stones into the bush to try to flush him out. One warrior, who was ahead of the others, threw a log into the bush – which did the job. Shaka jumped out over a tree and attacked, seriously injuring the warrior’s arm and hand; he then ran away, managing to escape unhurt. At this point, the Lion Guardians, who had been following the hunt from a distance – came in to provide assistance to the injured warrior and strongly urged the remaining warriors to give up their pursuit of the lion rather than risk more injuries. The hunters, especially their leaders, agreed and the hunt backed off. The Lion Guardians helped carry the injured murran to receive medical assistance.
This incident marks the first time that the new Lion Guardians in Tanzania have put their new conflict management training to the test by trying to talk down a highly excited hunting party. The entire Lion Guardian team is extremely proud of our new brothers’ performance, skills and dedication.