Big Life Foundation
Big Life Foundation
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In a battle against spears and poison, lions lose. As do cheetahs, leopards and all the other predators of Africa’s plains.

Back in 2003, on the Maasai lands around Mt. Kilimanjaro in Kenya, the situation was desperate. The fate of the remaining few lions was just about sealed.

And then, in one of the most encouraging successes of modern conservation, a last-ditch solution was found that Big Life is successfully implementing to this day. This is the future, the forefront of creating co-existence, however uneasy, between human beings and wild Africa.

Please watch the 3 minute film to find out how it happened, what Big Life is doing to , and how you can help.

(Film directed by Nick Brandt; edited by Zen Rosenthal of General Editorial; written by Tom Hill; footage by Nick Brandt, Kire Godal, Andrew Lang; music by Michael Stearns.)


lion 2 Photo © Nick Brandt







In 2003, in response to an imminent – and virtually certain – threat of local lion extinction, Maasailand Preservation Trust (MPT), in close collaboration with the local community, conceived a first-of-its-kind predator compensation programme. The intention was to better balance the costs and benefits of living with wildlife and thereby replace conflict and retaliation with tolerance and cohabitation.

This novel conservation strategy remains one of the most far-reaching and effective projects yet conceived by MPT, the first project of its kind implemented in Maasailand. Predator compensation, due to its unmatched success, now operates on two neighbouring group ranches.

One of many key aspects of the Predator Compensation Fund (PCF) is that it acts as an umbrella of protection – not only preventing lion extinction but also providing coverage for other persecuted species, such as hyena, cheetah, leopard, wild dog and jackal.

The raising of livestock in Maasailand is a vital activity for the community’s subsistence. Consequently, predators are under constant threat from livestock owners who view them as a danger to their livestock and kill them in retribution for livestock losses. Retaliatory killing is the major threat to Africa’s lion population today – the population is currently suffering a precipitous decline in numbers. Recent estimates show that, whereas 20 years ago there were 200,000 lions in Africa, today there are less than 25,000 lions, with no more than 2,000 of these individuals residing in Kenya.

The success achieved by PCF in its first nine years (2003-2012) is arguably unequalled in African conservation:

Since inception, lion killing has virtually stopped on Mbirikani Group Ranch within a Maasai community of 10,000 individuals. Only 6 lions were killed by livestock owners on Mbirikani Group Ranch during the first nine years of the project, while, during that same period, more than 200 lions were killed on the neighbouring group ranches where the PCF programme did not exist (at that time). The same Mbirikani Group Ranch community that now protects lions killed 22 in just 18 months prior to introduction of this innovative project.

A key factor to PCF’s success is the requirement that the entire community must support the objectives of the programme or compensation will cease for everyone. An expansion of the PCF project across the entire ecosystem will entrench the cultural change and support the lion and predator populations in the area.

However, today, the funding for the Predator Compensation Fund is very shortly to run out of cash, leaving the fate of all the predators in the Amboseli ecosystem imperilled.

We desperately need new and continued funding to maintain this incredibly important program.


Present Market Value of Livestock Killed by Predators (Ksh) - Mbirikani and Ogulului Group Ranches 2008 - 2011

  2008 2009 2010 2011 TOTAL Current Market Value
Cows 408 831 221 168 1,628 40,700,000
Sheep and Goats 1,573 3,727 1,582 1,793 8,675 34,700,000
Donkeys 35 192 86 35 348 2,784,000
TOTAL 2,016 4,750* 1,889 1,996 10,651 78,184,000**

* 2009 spike in depredation resulted from the worst drought in 50 yrs

** Kenyan shillings 78 million is (at present) nearly USD $1,000,000


group ranches covered by BLF

Map showing the group ranches covered by Big Life in the Amsoleli-Tsavo Ecosytem (Kuku is protected by MWCT)


Questions and Answers

Q: Is it possible under the rules of PCF for a livestock owner to leave his cattle out on purpose to be killed by a predator and, as a result, make a profit?

It is prohibited and would constitute a false claim. Our scouts are quite good in picking up this kind of fraud. Like most insurance systems, however, there are those who take chances. But the PCF verification process can determine within an acceptable tolerance whether the depredated animal was alive when “attacked” or the incident was merely one of scavenging, for which there is no compensation and the owner is subject to a Ksh 9,000 fine for false claim. Of perhaps equal importance, quoting a Maasai leader, “It is insulting to our people to think we care so little for our livestock to do that. And, we are not stupid. We know that a cow left out overnight in the bush and killed by a hyena (which is the most likely killer) will pay under PCF rules only 25% of the stated value of that cow (Ksh 5,000, not Ksh 20,000). No one makes a profit off of PCF doing that.”

Over the entire history of PCF – due to the discounts to full claims imposed by PCF on lost livestock, bad bomas, and depredations by hyenas of cows and donkeys – the average PCF claim pays less than 45% of the market value of the domestic animal that has been depredated.

Less than 45% on average is certainly not a formula for making a profit – nor is receiving only 25% of full value for a cow left out intentionally and killed by a hyena -- it is instead a testimonial to how well accepted and important PCF is to local Maasai livestock owners, i.e., that they have been willing, for more than nine years now on Mbirikani, to stop killing lions -- with very few exceptions -- for what amounts basically to a consolation payment for their losses, the community having met us “more than halfway” (only 45% recovery on average) in order to achieve PCF’s goal while imposing – and enforcing – painful penalties on themselves for lion killing, bad boma fencing, and poor husbandry.

Q: Is “predator-proofing” the fences of Maasai bomas a viable alternative conservation strategy to PCF?

We are fortunate (and unfortunate) at Big Life/MPT to have a wealth of data on depredation collected on many thousands of incidents in the Amboseli region since 2003; as a result, the trust has a good insight into the nature of depredation in this region.

Results of the most recent payday on Mbirikani Group Ranch (for the last two months of 2011) reveal that attacks on livestock inside of bomas accounted for only 22% of the economic losses suffered by livestock owners.

Predator-proofing a boma fence is important – and MPT has been doing exactly that for more than five years in collaboration with the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) and, more recently, the Born Free Foundation. We target bomas most frequently attacked by predators (using PCF data to determine that). But we don’t see predator-proofing boma fences as a viable stand-alone alternative to PCF in this ecosystem.

A strategy like PCF’s, focused on the livestock owner’s entire economic self-interest -- protecting 100% of his herd 24/7, whether his livestock is in a boma or not, and whether it is killed by a lion or not -- while focusing equally on the elimination of retaliatory behavior (particularly the use of poison), with severe penalties if a violation occurs, will be more successful in the long-term than a strategy focused on physical impediments to lion behavior.

Q: Rather than spend money on compensation, would it be better to spend money to train and educate Maasai livestock owners to take better care of their livestock when herding in the bush and not lose as many head to depredation?

We do both. Hand-in-hand with building predator-proof boma fences, MPT – with the support of AWF and within the same project known as Eramatare (“better husbandry”) – has been demonstrating, in many trials and community education meetings, that reducing the number of lost livestock in the bush through better herding practices is worth the cost of hiring an adult herder; a poor man, most likely, who has few if any livestock of his own and is therefore available for hire.

Demonstrations of better husbandry over the past five years have taken the form of:

  • Identifying (again through the use of PCF data) the families with the worst history of lost livestock claims
  • Sharing with those families, 50/50, the cost of hiring an adult herder for three to six months, and
  • Then comparing the cost of the professional herder to the savings in an owner’s net worth realized by not losing as many livestock, thus suffering less depredation. (note: recall that lost livestock claims are discounted between 50% and 75%, producing a loss in net worth for the owner, even after compensation).


The results of these pilot studies are then shared with the local community through meetings and discussion. In virtually every case, the pilot project resulted in a decline in the number of depredated livestock and a clear economic benefit – a “win-win” situation for both the Maasai livestock owner and for PCF.

Eramatare has, as a result, been described as a successful project by all those concerned – and the 2011 PCF results do show a significant reduction in lost livestock claims -- 40.1% of all claims, down from historic levels in excess of 65.0% . A corresponding reduction in the percentage of all verified depredations by hyenas – from historical levels, again, in excess of 65.0% -- to 45.4% in 2011 is also encouraging, although the drought of 2009/10, and the dramatic reduction in the number of livestock that resulted, may be a principal contributor to these changes as well.

Q: How do you know that the claims you are paying are valid?

First of all, we engage scouts with a great deal of knowledge in bush forensics.

As policy, MPT also conducts internal fraud investigations, some of which have led to the dismissal of members of staff found to have participated in a wrongful claim or claims; and MPT recognizes that, despite these investigations, some amount of fraud by livestock owners has occurred. What has also occurred over the years is that MPT has learned from its experiences, both good and bad, and improved PCF year-to-year, including in ways to minimize dishonest claims.

The checks and balances on dishonesty include:

  • The rules of PCF require the site of a depredation to be treated as a crime scene, no tampering with the carcass or tracks of the predator or the claim is rendered invalid at the site
  • Two verifying officers are required on each verification, one of whom is not a member of the community, in fact, not even Maasai
  • Verifying officers are rotated systematically to prevent collusion and not permitted to verify claims in their own home areas
  • Digital photos and GPS coordinates are recorded on all claims and used in dispute resolution if necessary
  • Informers are rewarded anonymously by MPT for reporting any abnormalities they know of regarding PCF claims, a tactic that has proven very successful in identifying incidents of fraud over the years
  • Advisory Committee members are required to review and sign-off on all claims in their zone and are subject to dismissal from the committee and loss of personal income if a fraud occurs on their watch
  • Public investigations -- involving community leaders as well as MPT trustees -- are conducted periodically in a courtroom-type manner to surface whatever additional incriminating information can be ascertained in this way
  • A fine of Ksh 9,000 ($110) is levied on anyone deemed to have made a false claim, and
  • The Advisory Committee acts as a dispute resolution body in the presence of MPT staff and trustees, determining the legitimacy of any and all claims that require review. The thoroughness of this process today must be experienced to be fully appreciated and MPT welcomes donors and conservationists to attend. Outside observers who have witnessed this process have commended MPT and the members of the committee for the seriousness with which the subject of fraud is addressed in these meetings and the sophistication of the process to identify it, if it occurred.


In addition, MPT’s ongoing review of claims data at the administrative level acts as a further means to alert the trust to aberrations in patterns and trends that could exist as a result of dishonesty and triggers heightened surveillance, the use of informers, and potentially a full-scale investigation.

Q: Why pay for dead livestock? Would it be better to pay for an increase in the number of living lions instead?

We have investigated this and it seems to follow a no claims, bonus style of arrangement. It certainly has merit and would be worth exploring if we had more time and more lions. It is a different model to superimpose on this one.

Paying for dead livestock is what the Maasai people asked us to do for now and it is still their preference based on research conducted recently by KWS. Maasai leaders within all age-sets and clans chose this conservation strategy – not MPT – as a “fair trade” for giving up a cultural practice that is 500 years old.

The question put by MPT to the Mbirikani community in 2003, in the face of the imminent extinction of lions, was, “What would it take to stop you from killing lions in retaliation for their killing your livestock?” The answer was compensation and the rules were then negotiated around that fundamental principle to make the process balanced and effective.

In 2007 the Kuku community asked our partner, Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust, for PCF, which is now known on Kuku as Wildlife Pays. In 2008 the Ogulului community asked MPT for PCF, which we provided with the help of the National Geographic Society (thereby completing a contiguous corridor of 1 million acres, from Tsavo to Amboseli, for lion survival and reproduction). The Rombo, Eselenkei, and Kimana communities – the remaining three in the ecosystem -- have repeatedly asked MPT for PCF as well.

The Director of the Kenya Wildlife Service has expressed his view on why compensation, more than any other strategy, causes retaliatory lion killing to stop: “PCF is successful because it provides the greatest economic benefit to the largest number of people at the time of their greatest need: when their livestock has been killed by a predator.”

Otherwise, it is best to ask the Maasai people directly why they prefer PCF. What MPT can provide here is a consensus of views -- gathered informally from the thousands of elders, leaders, and warriors we have engaged with on this subject over the years -- including: (1) it is simply a matter of common sense, and requires no further explanation (2) it helps me replace my livestock shortly after it has been killed (3) it is the only time in my life I have received a benefit – directly into my own hands – from living with wildlife (even if it is less than I lost) (4) the money cannot be stolen by my own community leaders.

Q: If the primary purpose is to save lions, why pay to protect all predators?

This is a question MPT debated at length in the early going of PCF, as we navigated our way through the creation of a new idea in collaboration with the local Mbirikani Maasai community. Time has proven our decision to be correct – to protect all major predators – for several reasons that are clear with the benefit of hindsight: (1) the survival of all predator species is critical to the viability of the ecosystem, not just lions (2) by protecting all major predator species, PCF was able to greatly reduce the culture of poisoning that was pervasive here prior to its introduction -- and remains pervasive to this day, immediately outside of PCF’s coverage area -- leaving Mbirikani livestock owners no excuse for poisoning any predator, including hyenas (note: not a single poisoning is known to have occurred on Mbirikani in the past nine years) (3) PCF, to be capable of the attitudinal and behavioral shifts it has achieved, must be of sufficient “scale” in its economic impact on the community involved.

By including all major predator species, this last criteria has been met: PCF – despite paying only 45% on average of market value per claim -- provides sufficient economic benefit in total, a sufficient “critical mass” of economic benefit to be worth – as a “fair trade” -- a profound change in behavior by those livestock owners protected, and they have responded by doing their part, ceasing the killing of all major predators with very few exceptions.

Q: How have the scouts known as Lion Guardians -- who operate outside of MPT but with some overlapping territorial coverage – contributed to the dramatic reduction in lion killing where PCF operates?

We have formed a steering committee that includes Lion Guardians because every initiative in the ecosystem that helps save lions is a good one.

Richard Bonham, in describing the complementary predator conservation initiatives operating together, has said, “It’s to me a lot like an onion, where each layer of the onion contributes to the whole – certainly this includes the contributions of Lion Guardians – but the core of the onion is PCF and without PCF these other complementary initiatives, these other layers, would not be sufficient to change the culture here and stop lion killing the way predator compensation has. PCF is essential, without which there would be no lions here to collar.”

Q: Should PCF be thought of as a stopgap measure?

Yes, if you believe that we can change the culture of retaliation. We believe we can. But we need more time.

The Maasai, like all people, are motivated by economic self-interest. Like all people as well, Maasai parents aspire to have their children live a better life than they. PCF has proven to be a “game changer” because of its economic impact on entire communities -- better balancing the economics of living with wildlife and making it acceptable to live in harmony with the great predators.

For the Maasai way of life to be preserved here in the 21st century, a mixed economy must be established and maintained, an economy comprised of pastoralism, tourism, and conservation. Farming is another component but one that must be carefully controlled and limited in scope as, left unmanaged, it is highly threatening to the scarce water supply of the region and the low-nutrition soil that must produce enough grass to support both domestic animals and wildlife.

If stopgap measure means a short-term solution, then PCF is not a stopgap measure, but it does stop the killing while we can attempt to employ ALL the practical conservation methods that will save the lions in this ecosystem.

If the Maasai are to retain their way of life and hold on to ownership of their traditional lands in the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem, PCF is indispensable.

Q: How best can PCF be sustained long-term?

PCF is a payment for ecosystem services (PES), meaning that its funding better balances the economics between those who benefit and those who suffer losses in order to protect and preserve irreplaceable resources (e.g., in the case of the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem, many of nature’s most threatened large mammal species (not just lions); vital forests and water sources; and a region’s and a nation’s economy) that benefit many people (the citizens of Kenya and the world at large) at the expense of a relatively few (local Maasai pastoralists and their families) who otherwise are left to bear their burden alone.

The cost of predator compensation in 2013, across the one million acre corridor presently covered, is projected to be less than $500,000. We estimate that this budget can be met by $6 per bednight or less by the tourism operators of the region, or by a nominal surcharge by KWS on the gate fees at Amboseli and Tsavo West National Parks.

If, however, PCF is not sustained, despite the attainability of this goal, the local Maasai communities of Amboseli-Tsavo will believe, understandably, that they have little choice but to seek their own remedy to the problem as they see it -- which is the unacceptable economic losses resulting from living with the large predators without receiving sufficient economic benefit – and they are almost certain, eventually, to return to the decision made before PCF was conceived) -- to systematically drive the lion and the other large predators into extinction “once and for all”, using spears and poison.

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