Thursday, July 12, 2007

Lion hunters have change of heart!

Wednesday, 5:51 AM
Lion hunters have a change of heart
By Tony Perry SAN DIEGO --

In their songs, the Maasai tribesmen of East Africa have long celebrated the killing of lions as a test of their manhood. But now the Maasai who live in the Mbirikani Group Ranch in southeastern Kenya are trying to change their traditional antipathy toward the majestic beasts.To spread the message that the lion deserves to be saved, a Maasai troupe is spending the summer at the San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park -- dancing, singing and mingling with patrons near the home of seven lions.The Maasai are drawing flocks of tourists to their lectures -- two of the dancers speak English -- and their performances at a grassy area near the hot-air balloon ride adjacent to Lion Camp."We have decided as a community to put down our spears and try to save the lion," said Noah Nchona Ntiata, the trou pe's elder. Under a deal with the Maasailand Preservation Trust, the Maasai are compensated when a lion kills their livestock rather than them killing the predator.Using donations and tourism income, the trust pays $80 for a donkey, $100 for a goat and $200 for a cow -- in a country where more than half the population lives on about $1 per day. "From this day forward, on Mbirikani, the warrior and the lion are brothers," a Maasai leader proclaimed in March. In the compensation program's three years, four lions have been killed on the Mbirikani Group Ranch, compared with 22 in the previous 18 months, according to Conservation International, a wildlife protection group based in Virginia . On its list of endangered species, the Switzerland- based World Conservation Union shows the lion as "vulnerable. " In West Africa , the lion is listed as "regional ly endangered."Lions inhabit more than 30 African countries, but their numbers have dwindled because of lost habitat and hunting. Conservation International estimates that before European colonization in the 19th Century, more than 1 million lions roamed Africa . The group puts the population now at 30,000, mostly in protected areas such as national parks.Changing a tribal culture is not easy. For generations, only a Maasai who killed a lion could call himself a warrior.The tribe's dancing involves ritualized gestures symbolizing the lion hunt. The dancers' high-pitched chanting speaks of the challenge of stalking and killing a lion with a spear or poison blow-dart. Still, the Maasai hope their program spreads in Africa . Paying ranchers for lost livestock makes more sense than merely declaring the lions off-limits for killing, said Wilson Nitoipo Sayioki, one of the seve n Maasai men at the Wild Animal Park ."The lions have the right to live and roam in their natural habitat," said Sayioki, 25. "We've gone from conservation victims to conservation watchdogs."

http://www.chicagot news/nationworld /chi-lions_ 09jul09,1, 5612220.story? coll=chi- newsnationworld- hed

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