Friday, June 4, 2010

Land of Lions

On occasion, lions actually do matter when discussing Africa.
Kenya's lion population has declined from 20,000 to less than 2,000 in 50 years and there are very few places in the country where the animals are not under threat.

To understand why the Maasai are killing lions in Kenya, you have to realize that there is a big difference between the way Africans who live among predators think about them, and the way westerners do. Tourists will spend thousands of dollars on safari vacations for the chance to see a lion in the wild. Some Maasai pastoralists will risk jail time to kill lions because they sometimes prey on cattle. For the Maasai, there is nothing on earth more important than cattle. ...

The situation became more dire after a punishing multi-year drought that killed cattle and, in some areas, most of the wildlife. Cattle became much more valuable for the Maasai — who wanted to keep more animals than the grazing land could sustain — and for desperate predators that had little else to eat. ...

If the West wants to save the lions for their Africa stereotyping efforts, what should the West do to help resolve these conflicts?

One way is to build a tourist lodge and give the locals jobs, training and some of the profits from the tourists who stay there. Another is to rent their land and set it aside for wildlife. Another way is to pay them some form of compensation when a predator kills their animals. ... "We've had some setbacks, certainly, but one thing is very, very clear. If we hadn't had that compensation project on-line, I'd doubt very much there would be one lion left in the whole ecosystem," says Bonham. "That's what's been putting the brakes on the killing."
Part of the article discusses the problem of making this sustainable in the sense of ongoing once the donors leave and largely involve either making convservation a good business opportunity or convincing the Maasai to value lions the same way Western conservationists do. I tend to think this is, partly, the wrong way to think about it. If we want them to provide us a service - conserving lions - we should pay them for it. Why should they continue doing it if we stop paying them to do what we want them to? It's asking for free services. If what we want is to save lions, we can afford it. And if we don't care enough to pay for it ... do we really care?

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