Amboseli Conservation Projects
The Greater Amboseli region is home to some exceptional conservation projects.
Because lions are the easiest of the big cats to observe, few people realise that lions face an extremely uncertain future. A century ago, more than 200,000 lions roamed Africa. Now, fewer than 30,000 are thought to remain and lions have disappeared from 80% of their historical range, according to Panthera (www.panthera.org), the world's leading cat conservation NGO. In Kenya, lion numbers have reached critical levels: less than 2000 lions are thought to remain in the country. Fewer than 100 of these inhabit the Amboseli ecosystem and around half of these (many more in the rainy season) live outside park boundaries, sharing the land with the Maasai and their herds of livestock.
Although lions are a primary focus, rhinos, elephants and the entire ecosystem are very much a part of conservation process too.
In Maasai culture, young male warriors (the moran) have traditionally killed lions and other wild animals to prove their bravery and as an initiation rite into manhood. But one organisation has come up with an innovative way of honouring Maasai tradition while protecting lions in the process. The Lion Guardians (www.lionguardians.org), a cutting-edge and highly successful project, has taken many of these young, traditional warriors and turned them into Lion Guardians, whose task is to protect the Maasai and the lions from each other. Each Lion Guardian, most of whom are former lion killers, patrols a territory on the Maasai group ranches, keeping track of the lions, warning herders of lion locations and helping them to find lost livestock and even lost children. In areas where the Lion Guardians operate, lion killings (and livestock lost to lions) have fallen dramatically.
Maasailand Preservation Trust
Kuku in particular is the base for the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust (www.maasaiwilderness.org), which is run partly out of Campi ya Kanzi and has Hollywood star Edward Norton as the president of its US board of directors. The trust works closely with local communities in protecting these important wildlife habitats and corridors through programs such as Simba Scouts (local Maasai rangers), environmental education, and Wildlife Pays (payments are made to local communities for the wildlife that lives on their land, instead of paying compensation for livestock losses after the fact).
Big Life Foundation
Mibirikani has been the centre for some excellent conservation work over the years. It began in 2004 (when lions were being killed in record numbers) with the Predator Compensation Fund (PCF), a scheme run by the Maasailand Preservation Trust. Designed to reduce human-wildlife conflict by paying monetary compensation to local Maasai herders for livestock killed by predators, the PCF is largely credited with turning the situation around.
In 2012, the Maasailand Preservation Trust was brought within the Big Life Foundation (www.biglife.org) which operates a paramilitary force of armed rangers who patrol the area to combat poaching. Run by veteran conservationist Richard Bonham and operating in part from Ol Donyo, Big Life is widely touted as the reason why the poaching of elephants and rhinos – there's a small population of the latter on the western slopes of the Chyulu Hills – has largely passed Amboseli by.