Today on World Lion Day, many will rightly draw attention to the fact that Africa’s lion population has been in sharp decline, by some estimates as much as 43% in the last 20 years.
But here in Amboseli we are celebrating a 20-year milestone of a very different kind. In April 2003, the Predator Compensation Fund (PCF) was created in close collaboration with local Maasai communities and elders to find a way of preventing the retaliatory killing of lions and other predators in response to livestock losses.
In the 18 months before the program began, at least 31 lions were killed on Mbirikani Group Ranch. At that rate, it was highly likely that Amboseli’s lion population would be wiped out by the end of 2003. In the 20 years since, only 20 lions have been killed in violation of PCF on Mbirikani - a 95% reduction in the average number of lions killed on a monthly basis.
Over that same amount of time, Big Life has compensated for 49,457 livestock killed by wild predators with payments of more than US $1.6m to the local Maasai community.
But the real celebration is this: since PCF was started, the lion population across the ecosystem has grown from less than 20 to around 250.
Of course, not all of this lion conservation success can be credited to PCF alone. There has been a lot of hard work by our partners at Lion Guardians and the Born Free Foundation, as well as other more general conservation programs implemented by numerous entities, that have been greatly beneficial.
Lion killing in Amboseli has not been eradicated completely. Violations still occur, notably the recent killings you read about in May. Incidents like this are definite setbacks, but are often catalysts for much needed dialogue, and the community-enforced penalties are important demonstrations of commitment to the agreement.
So, in two decades since our program began, we have seen the Amboseli ecosystem’s lion population go from near local extinction to what scientists believe is the right amount for a healthy population at capacity.
And that is a story we believe should be roared at the top of everyone’s lungs this World Lion Day.
Thanks to all of our partners and supporters for making programs like PCF possible.
Photo: Max Melesi