To a large extent, the long-term survival of lions and the success of interventions to combat illegal wildlife trade depend on the local communities who live with them. Therefore, incorporating communities into formal structures for regulating and managing lions and their habitat is vital and can bring benefits to both lions and local communities alike.  Where the economic and social value of lion populations for local people is positive, they are more likely to be motivated to support and engage in efforts to conserve lions and combat poaching and illegal trade. This is key consideration when developing effective, innovative and useful projects for lion conservation.

Best Practices                                 

Best practices are a set of guidelines or ideas that represent the course of action that experience has shown to be most successful and efficient. They are important to consider when developing action plans to minimize repetition of past mistakes and maximize onsuccesses.

No clear best practice guidelines for engaging communities in lion conservation exist as of yet. Some examples of best practice guidelines for other large carnivores, general principles of which could be applied to lions are below:

Community Engagement and Building Capacity for Lasting Conservation Action – Snow Leopard Conservancy

Awareness and Community Engagement Project Guidance – Wildlife Habitat Council


  Case Studies                                                                                                                          © Nick Dale      

Cottar’s Wildlife Conservation Trust - Olderkesi Wildlife Conservancy, Kenya

Lions are among the several species to benefit from a community conservancy initiative, in which local landowners are paid to protect wildlife in Olderkesi, a key corridor on the south east boundary of the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya.

Cottar’s Wildlife Conservation Trust (CWCT) is currently implementing a programme which pays Maasai community landowners of Olderkesi for the lease of 7,000 acres for a designated conservancy. 3,400 registered members collectively own an area of 106,000 acres and make up one third of the population living on the land. The scheme is based on performance-based lease payments that are competitive with alternative land use, such as agriculture and domestic livestock grazing. These payments finance community development and infrastructure projects, including schools, medical and ambulance services, radio communication networks and employment of security scouts from the community. CWCT raises money to cover the conservancy lease, management and operations by charging entry fees to tourism partners and from benefactors. The money is paid to community landowners via a direct payment scheme, making it less susceptible to corruption.

Infringements of the agreed land use, such as poaching, trigger deductions in lease payments to the Maasai community leaders who are then responsible for making up the deficit. This aspect of the agreement promotes a collective liability which is a powerful incentive to enforce land use for wildlife. In contrast, communities are rewarded for information that leads to the capture of poachers, guns and ivory stocks. Long term success will depend on whether the community decides that land for wildlife is economically worthwhile over time, and whether the rewards are worth the risks of protection.

Lessons learned

  • There is no quick fix to setting up a community conservancy - 100 per cent buy-in is key to success, especially in pastoral communities, and this takes time. It took more than 10 years of negotiations between CWCT and the Olderkesi Maasai community the finalize the deal.
  • Collective decision-making process means that results are likely to be more lasting than deals struck with individual landowners. The key to finalizing the deal was persuading the whole community to agree that a single land unit of 7,000 acres should be managed as a wildlife conservancy, as opposed to being subdivided into small plots for farming and livestock.
  • A secure source of funding is essential.

African People & Wildlife – Warriors for Wildlife and Living Walls

Since its establishment in 2001, the African People & Wildlife Fund (APW) has been helping to build the capacity of rural Africans to engage in conservation and sustainable livelihood strategies that promote the dual objectives of wildlife conservation and poverty alleviation. APW emphasize community - based conservation that maximizes villagers’ participation and hands-on involvement in all aspects of their work, particularly in the creation of Living Walls and the Warriors for Wildlife team.

APW’s Warriors for Wildlife is a team employing local community members that provides rapid response to human-lion conflict in northern Tanzania, helping to identify sites of conflict and diffuse the situation. Having been raised locally in Tanzania, the Warriors understand the unique situation of livestock owners, helping to change long-held negative perceptions towards lions and educate other Maasai members about lion conservation.

APW also partners with communities to build Living Walls, environmentally friendly corrals that keep livestock safe from lions. Members of the community are directly involved in planting the trees that make up the posts of the corrals and maintaining them to protect their livestock over time. In this way, retaliatory lion killing can be avoided using a participatory, village-based approach that intertwines conflict avoidance techniques with coordinated land use and habitat planning.

   © Philipp Henschel

Ewaso Lions – Mama Simba programme

The Mama Simba (‘mother of lions’) programme was launched in 2013 within Westgate Community Conservancy in northern Kenya, aiming to harness women’s enthusiasm to participate in conservation and to fulfill their requests for education. Due to their traditional responsibility for the household, Samburu women are frequent users of natural resources and often encounter wildlife, dealing with human-wildlife conflict first-hand. Additionally, women are the ones that remain in the village when elders and warriors leave with cattle during the dry season. Mama Simba equips women, who have limited exposure to conservation issues, with the knowledge and skills needed to reduce their environmental impact, effectively conserve wildlife and ultimately improve livelihoods.

Firstly, the programme delivers workshops informing women of the importance of conservation and sustainable practices and offers hands-on training in the identification of wildlife. Secondly, as part of a wider initiative entitled Boma Watch, it works with women to enhance livestock protection within the manyatta, encouraging reinforcement of livestock enclosures called bomas with thornbush to restrict entry by carnivores, and enlisting their support to test and monitor experimental deterrents, such as ‘Lion lights’. Thirdly, the programme offers an alternative source of income, by commissioning the women, renowned for their exceptional beadwork skills, to make authentic beaded lion figurines. Ewaso Lions purchases these handicrafts directly from the women who make them, before selling them at international forums.

Finally, through Mama Simba’s educational arm, the programme teaches women to read and write. Acquiring literacy not only facilitates their participation in conservation-based activities but also empowers women in other aspects of their life, including their beadwork, food and livestock trade businesses.