A study published in Conservation Biology this month has shown that incentive/community-based conservation efforts are effective in reducing the killing of large carnivores, specifically the lion. Projects such as Cheetah Country Beef by the Cheetah Conservation Fund and the sale of handicrafts by the Snow Leopard Trust have proven that the creation of a direct economic benefit for local individuals has a greater impact in improving predator tolerance than relying on a conceptual knowledge that there may be an overall economic benefit to the community through larger entities such as eco-tourism and trophy hunting. This study investigated 2 different approaches to improving the tolerance of lions with the local people of Maasailand in southern Kenya. They compared a purely incentive-based approach with an approach which integrates community values discovering that while each approach reduced lion killing individually, both approaches working in unison may be the way to go.
The first approach is based on a practice which has already had some success in the North America (with wolves, bears, coyotes, etc.), predator compensation. The goal of predator compensation is to deter vengeful killing by compensating local farmers for livestock losses caused by predators. A private organization called the Predator Compensation Fund was set up in southern Kenya to manage the program and the study found that over the 8 years of data collected, predator compensation resulted in an 87-91% decrease in killing.
The second program uses community cultural values and belief systems by employing traditional warriors, called imurran, to act as Lion Guardians. Imurran warriors are highly respected members of the Masaai community, responsible for defending its people and livestock. The guardians are offered $100/month to discourage locals from killing predators through education and community assistance. Additional deterrents include guardians losing their earnings if lions disappear so the strong Maasai ties to community and it being frowned upon to cause problems for respected community members has nearly wiped out lion killing completely, with the data showing a 99% decrease with the Lion Guardians program.
These percentages were calculated using some pretty sophisticated mathematical models and statistics (for those of you who understand that kind of stuff, they used a jackknifed generalized linear model with pairwise comparisons of the likelihood ratio statistic). Both programs have some downfalls – predator compensation hasn’t been shown to have long-term sustainability when privately funded and can cause livestock management to fall in anticipation for loss, and Lion Guardians doesn’t take into consideration the costs of livestock losses at all – but the benefits of each can counter the costs of the other. A combination of incentive-based approaches would be the most ideal method for improving predator tolerance but, of the two approaches, the one with implications on community values was the more successful and more likely of the two to be successful if run on its own.
•Hazzah, L. et al. 2014. Efficacy of two lion conservation programs in Maasailand, Kenya. Conservation Biology