Once, the Maasai lived in harmony with the lions of Southern Kenya, keeping down their populations to protect game while also keeping the herds safe from other humans. Now, the government is recruiting members of that same tribe to help Africa’s lions survive plummeting population levels.

“The problems are that these lions are coming into bomas, they’re attacking livestock, goats and cows and the communities are getting angry about this,” lion researcher Amy Howard told Reuters Africa Journal. “In the past they used to go out on hunting parties and try and kill the lions in revenge and also as a rite of passage for the warriors.”

Once tens of thousands strong, only 2,000 lions survive in Kenya. As “Lion Guardians,” Maasai tribe members use an electronic device to track around a dozen lions that have been trapped, collared and re-released.

But, when it comes to tracking uncollared lions, it’s the tribesmen’s traditional lion tracking skills that give them an edge over other would-be lion protectors.

“So what we are doing is we are employing warriors here to conserve the lions,” says Howard.

“They go out and track them and tell their communities where they are so they know not to herd there. So we’re tying to reduce the amount of conflict that we’re getting between the livestock and lions.”

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Kenya's Maasai tribesmen recruited as lion guardians
Once fierce lion killers, the Maasai are now being recruited by the government to protect dwindling lion population.