Imagine for a moment that you are a Maasai tribesman in Kenya and your entire livelihood is invested in your livestock. One day, a lion attacks one of your cows, killing it. Enraged, you set about to seek justice and protect your cattle from further harm. But justice today is not the same as it once was. The Maasai once used spears alone to take down lions, but now, with the rise of poisonous insecticides, it's simple for you to spread some poison on the carcass while the lion has wandered away. When the lion returns with its cubs, it ingests the poison. But so does the rest of the pride. In the span of a few hours, an entire family of lions is wiped out. Your cattle are safe...for now. But there are side effects: The region's economy, dependent on tourism, becomes unstable, and the fragile ecosystem of East Africa is shattered.
This was the reality facing Tom Hill, who began his work on lion conservation efforts in the Kenyan bush 16 years ago. As a trustee of the Maasailand Preservation Trust (known as the Ol Donyo Wuas Trust in Kenya), Hill has worked on the Mbirikani Group Ranch; and he has watched the population of lions deteriorate in the Amboseli-Tsavo Ecosystem (Located at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro). The arrival of poison in the region has only hastened the problem. In 2003, he says, "We lost eight lions in one afternoon. It was the last great pride of the Chyulu Hills."
It was shortly after losing that pride that Hill and his co-founder, Richard Bonham, began speaking with the Maasai community about creating a better way to account for their losses. The MPT had long been established in the region and had relationships with tribal elders. But, Hill says, they needed to find a reason to make it worthwhile for the 10,000 people in the community to want to live alongside such beasts. "We realized that if we didn’t do something significant the lion population was going to go extinct," he says. "So we sat under trees with elders for months talking about life for the Maasai and the nature of conflict with wildlife. We tried to see how could we develop a solution that could stabilize the predator population, and save them from extinction, while saving the quality of life for the people." It was out of those meetings that they developed a novel system called the Mbirikani Predator Compensation Fund.