The Lions Guardians have completed their three week programme training rangers in Akagera. The purpose of their visit was to educate Akagera staff, and rangers in particular, on lions and their behaviour. With the absence of lions for more than 15 years, most of the rangers in Akagera had no experience with lions and while they shared the excitement of the rest of Rwanda to have the lions back, as their closest neighbours, there was also some fear and uncertainty. Following the Lions Guardians͛ visit the Rangers now feel equipped with the knowledge to confidently patrol in the park and track the lions for monitoring.
Lions Guardians is a conservation organization, based in Kenya, which has been promoting the coexistence of people and lions for 8 years. The programme protects lions using a model based on traditional knowledge, cultural values, community participation and science. Their approach proactively reduces conflict between people and lions, provides incentives and benefits to communities, and generates important scientific data and knowledge about species conservation.
To maximize their reach while they were in Akagera the Lion Guardians also talked with management staff, guides, and the local community. In their last couple of days, the Lions Guardians visited three locations in the communities bordering the park, where approximately 670 people gathered to speak with Eric Ole Kesoi, Community Manager, and Kisimir Olamayiani, tenured Lion Guardian and trainer. Wearing their traditional Maasi shukas, they were accompanied by Akagera's community Liaison team to translate. They shared their knowledge, advice and experience with people living on the boundary of the park, and in turn, listened to the stories and past experiences' with lions from the local community around Akagera.
Their message was about how understanding the behaviour of lions can help people living next to the lions. How they do not view people as food and generally they are afraid of people and will avoid any human interaction. There are some circumstances where lions can be less predictable; when they are distracted by mating, injured or with cubs, more vigilance is needed. They discussed what you should, and should not, do if you ever come across lions and they gave advice about strengthening the cattle enclosures. The Akagera team talked about the precautions put in place to safeguard the community; all seven lions are fitted with GPS collars, and the boundary fence which is walked daily to check for problems and repair any damage.
There were many questions and the general feeling after the meeting was that the community had learned a lot, felt less fearful and were grateful for the opportunity to meet with the Lion Guardians and learn more about their new neighbours.