By Abbey Greene
Daniel Ole Sambu is an elder in the Maasai community, a natural leader and dedicated conservationist. He has over 10 years of experience working with communities and partners to protect the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem and its predators. During his time with the Predator Protection Program he has helped significantly reduce retaliatory killing of predators, namely lion.
Dereck Joubert's new film "Tribe Vs Pride" features your tribe's relationship with lions. Why is this story important for conservation efforts?
Daniel Ole Sambu: I am very excited to see the film premiered at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival. To me, telling this story this will really help our conservation education team and the Maasai Olympics, two of our programs to help the Maasai cohabitate with lions in Kenya. It’s a brilliant presentation of the Maasai versus lions, where the Maasai’s have to make a far reaching decision to bear the losses of living with the lions, and to protect the very lions that kill their livestock.
What is your own personal relationship to lions?
Sambu: Just like any Maasai young boy, since childhood I also have the same spirit of killing a lion to prove my warrior-worth. Because killing a lion is prestigious culturally, I participated in five lion hunt attempts but never succeeded, although my friends did. It's the duty of every warrior to protect their family’s livestock from any outside intrusion, including lions. After a while, I became employed to protect lions from, among other things, cultural killing! So it’s now me between lions, warriors, and livestock. I am supposed to use my social character to bring peace and tolerance between livestock owners and the lions. I have come to realize that predators, lions in particular, form an integral part of any conservation initiative. Eventually, working with Big Life’s predator protection program, the lion which I wanted to kill has become my most favourite animal.
Tell us about Big Life's predator compensation program, which you manage in Kenya. Why is it successful?
Sambu: Started in early 2003, the predator protection program is a partnership between Big Life Foundation and the Maasai to address the imminent threat to lion extinction. In collaboration with the local Maasai community, Big Life works to try and better balance the costs and benefits of living with wildlife, replacing conflict and retaliation with tolerance. Since inception, we have witnessed lion killing virtually stopped on the three group ranches where we have the predator compensation fund. The fund was set up when we realized that the Maasai community is affected so much by the economic losses of their only source of livelihood, which is livestock. Essentially, if a lion kills livestock, the owner of the livestock is entitled to partial compensation. The compensation fund involves a 27-clause agreement explaining the roles and responsibilities of each partner, and with stiffer penalties for negligence and lion killing, have made it one of the most successful compensation programs in the region. We think it’s the biggest hope for lion survival in the pastoralist dominated ecosystem.
How can people in the U.S. support the lion conservation work you do in Kenya?
Sambu: By making a donation in support of Big Life’s predator protection program, you will be guaranteeing lion survival in this ecosystem, and support expansion of the program to areas that have have yet to receive any benefits from conservation. You can also visit as a tourist these areas outside the parks, and the dollars you pay in those lodges will support the conservation of lions. Finally, supporting our scholarship program enables children from less fortunate families attain the most needed education, thereby creating a very understanding community. Through this program, employment opportunities are created, directly improving the living standards of the local Maasai and helping to conserve lions.