As a consequence of climate change, habitat fragmentation, diversion of water resources and competition between livestock and wild grazers, an overall decrease in wildlife is being observed outside of protected areas. There are fewer than 1850 lions left in Kenya and this number is thought to be declining by 100 annually. Naboisho Conservancy has transformed previously unprotected residential land into a safe-haven for wildlife and a high-end, low-impact tourism destination. However, lions remaining in anthropologically stressed areas, including those on the outskirts of the conservancy, are faced with fewer natural prey and therefore develop a tendency to hunt livestock. When this happens, the Maasai will usually engage in retaliatory killings – since November 2011 until March 2012, 16 lions have been killed in the peripheries of Naboisho Conservancy. Consequently, preventing human-lion conflicts is urgent and essential in order to effectively and directly reduce the decline of lions in this unprotected area, and as the majority of lions cross between the conservancy and its outlying areas, lion deaths outside of the conservancy also negatively impact the tourism product within.
The Mara-Naboisho Lion Project (MNLP) resulted from the opportunity created by the formation of the conservancy, as a unique opportunity developed to extend the fieldwork undertaken by Niels Mogensen in 2005/2006 for his Masters degree. As Naboisho Conservancy now includes part of the earlier study site, it became possible to examine the effect that creating a protected area has on lion behaviour and their spatial dynamics. Simultaneously, local landowners and the Naboisho Conservancy desired research focusing on lions in order to document the impact of conservancies on the lion population, in addition to supporting the rangers and herders during times of open grazing by advising them on the known current locations of lions, especially those with cubs who should not be disturbed. The conservancy management, tourist partners and landowners all acknowledge that detailed research focusing on lion demography, behaviour and spatial dynamics (e.g. information regarding pride ranges during different seasons) is essential in order to achieve effective management, a reduction in human-lion conflicts, the protection of lions and thus sustainability of the conservancy and its tourism product.
Project aims :
A) conserve lions outside the conservancies by monitoring and mapping pride ranges in addition to education, documenting conflicts, and providing incentives for the local community to conserve their natural habitats and improve their livestock enclosures;
B) conserve lions inside Naboisho conservancy by monitoring and analyzing the prides that utilize the conservancy.
These two aims are worked on via three objectives: lion monitoring; human-wildlife conflict prevention and mediation, and; capacity building. These are described in more detail below.
Lion Monitoring :
The project uses volunteers from the African Impact project, which is based at the Koiyaki Guiding School in the center of Naboisho Conservancy, to supplement the monitoring and identification of lions in the two core conservancy prides. This gives the MNLP research team more time to monitor lion prides that are more difficult to track, especially the elusive lions utilizing the outskirts of the conservancy.
This research will improve our understanding of lion social ecology, space utilization, demography and pride compositions. This will require ageing and sexing lions, monitoring lion movements within, at the edges and in the outskirts of Naboisho and mapping out pride areas, denning and resting sites and pride composition. It will also involve monitoring mortality and reproduction and documenting the various sources of mortality in each pride area. Also, we will monitor utilization of kills by lions.
Human-Wildlife conflict prevention and mediation :
The project's assistant, who is a local Maasai, enables the project to cover a larger area. He is able to quickly attend conflicts that he becomes aware of and is successful in mediating with the communities in order to prevent retaliatory lion killings. In addition to this mediation, he holds regular community meetings with both school children and adults about lions and the need for their conservation. The project is also in the process of lion-proofing its first two cattle enclosures, in the villages that border Naboisho Conservancy. Such preventative measures (which are funded jointly by the village owners) should reduce predations, and thus in turn reduce retaliatory lion killings in the area.
Capacity building :
In addition to the community capacity building outlined above, the project also assists in educating local trainee guides about big cats at the Koiyaki Guiding School and presents the project to volunteers at the African Impact program and teaches them how to photograph and identify lions.