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Update from the field: Lion Guardians

When I was searching for a program to propose for this year’s Quarters for Conservation selection, Lion Guardians stuck out to me for more reasons than I can count. Not only are they committed to the conservation of lions and their habitats, but also to the local communities with which the lions share a home. Their efforts to incorporate local culture, rather than attempting to change it, have been key aspects of their great success over the years.

Conservation projects have many layers. Many don’t realize that there are so many additional factors that go alongside the field work directly involving the animals. If sustainable, long-term goals are to be achieved, it is critical to involve local communities in the areas where the work is being done.

One of the coolest ways that Lion Guardians honors traditional culture and incorporates it into their work is by holding an event each year called the Lion Guardians Games. During this event, the entire Lion Guardians team, as well as their affiliate projects from across east Africa, gathers to review the overall progress of the program that year, provide a day of refresher training, and celebrate the hard work of the entire Lion Guardians extended family. They honor the local tribes by hosting traditional competitions, including stick throwing, spear accuracy and a foot race. The competitions are concluded with an award ceremony and recognition for the Guardians.

Lion Guardians has over 10 years of work, dedication, and success under their belt, and they believe that sharing knowledge is vital to achieving and maintaining sustainable conservation and livelihood impacts. Their conservation model can be adapted and applied across cultures and species, and acts as a useful tool for communities learning to live alongside carnivores. Lion Guardians shares what they’ve learned by designing structured training programs, as well as customized coaching and training services.

For communities wishing to start up or maintain an existing conservation initiative, Lion Guardians provides training for project managers. This opportunity provides a chance for participants to learn about the Lion Guardians model, why it works, and how it can be applied and modified to align with different project goals. The project managers are provided with structured lessons, discussions and activities in the classroom and field.

Lion Guardians also provides an in-depth course for newly-hired Guardians. The training team for this course includes tenured Guardians who engage in discussions and answer questions that newer Guardians may have about their roles. In this course, the new Guardians are provided with in-situ (in the field) training so that they can understand their new jobs and effectively execute their roles.

One of my favorite ways Lion Guardians shares their knowledge is their use of community visits to gain support for conservation initiatives. These visits introduce influential members of communities to the Lion Guardians model, its strategies and its successes. By inviting Lion Guardians to come visit and show communities that there are ways to safely live alongside wildlife without changing the local culture, project developers can gain genuine support from their community and its leaders. This is a great way to start the project off and ensure its sustainability over time.

As you can see, Lion Guardians is committed not only to their work at their conservation sites, but also to sharing their model and helping others make it work in different situations. To date, they have worked with other successful projects such as the Kope Lion Project, Tarangire Lion Research Initiative, and the Ruaha Carnivore Project. Their goals of long-term and sustainable conservation actions are creating success not just for themselves, but for many others as well. I am very excited to support Lion Guardians and I hope that you are too!

(photo copyright Salisha Chandra)

Danica Wolfe
Mammal Keeper and Quarters for Conservation Champion, Lion Guardians

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl