Dr. Leela Hazzah, one of the three winners for the Future For Nature Award 2014.
“Faced with the seemingly irreversible loss of lions to a wide range of people-centered causes, I developed a participatory conservation approach that turns lion killers into lion savers: the Lion Guardians. It has proven to be incredibly successful, by nearly eliminating lion killing in the areas where Lion Guardians operate. It is based, most fundamentally, on empowering local communities to invest in protecting “their” wildlife as a livelihood strategy.
Having worked in Africa for many years before starting the Lion Guardians program, I observed that wildlife conservation has traditionally focused on wildlife, not people. This approach overlooks the intricate and interdependent links between societies and nature and ignores the irrefutable reality that, at the end of the day, it is the local people who make the decision to conserve wildlife. Guardians play a traditional role as protectors of their communities, yet retain the close association with lions that is central to their identity. They monitor lion movements, warn pastoralists of lions, recover lost livestock, reinforce livestock corrals and intervene to stop lion hunting parties. Collectively these efforts lead to a reduction in the loss of livestock, which in turn enhances the livelihoods of the local people and builds tolerance for lions and other imperiled wildlife.
My wish is that Maasai culture and lions can prosper together. It has been heartening to see Lion Guardians become an effective, sustainable and replicable model for achieving this goal. This model is widely acknowledged as one of the most effective programs saving lions and actively improving lives by embracing local culture and empowering local people to participate in conserving lions.
I believe that the Lion Guardians approach is applicable on a much wider scale to multiple species and ecosystems. With the same remarkable rate of success, I have also expanded this unique model into Tanzania where lion populations were being exterminated by local communities. My long-term vision is to see a network of projects based on the Lion Guardians model throughout Africa and beyond to stop lion and other carnivore killings.”
“Leela Hazzah shows the importance of understanding the local customs, beliefs and problems in developing a gentle change to indigenous conservation ethics. Africa suffers from the top-down application of Western conservation ideals still being pushed by international NGOs. With little faith placed in governments either, it is only by building up a new African vision of nature that long-term conservation success is likely.” – 2014, John MacKinnon, International Selection Committee