The grassland also serves as wet-season habitat for many animals, including large predators such as lions and hyenas. In recent years the Masai have increased their persecution of the predators, leaving the lion population potentially vulnerable to extinction.
Frank and his colleagues will spend the next three years monitoring the lion population, trying to discern where they go, where they come from, who eats the most livestock, and how many are left.
"We are really trying to get a handle on how many lions are in the area," said Frank. "We do know there has been tremendous mortality."
The researchers will combine aerial radio tracking, global positioning system (GPS) technology, and genetic data to study the lions. Game scouts will collect information on livestock losses and predator killings.
The information should tell the researchers where the lions live, how they move in relation to prey, and which lions do most of the livestock killing. Armed with such data, the researchers hope to broker a peace with the herders.
Game scouts will be trained to encourage the herdsmen to use good anti-predator livestock management, such as the construction of strong bomas, which are traditional enclosures for livestock to overnight in, much like a corral. Other practices include keeping well-fed dogs to warn of predators and using experienced men rather than children to do the daytime herding.
Those who follow these good management practices and still lose livestock to lions will be compensated under a system that Frank describes as having "a lot of strings attached to it" in order to avoid the corruption and abuse that has surrounded other compensation programs in the past.
"People will be held to high standards of livestock husbandry," he said. "If they are not attempting to discourage predators, they won't be compensated."
Under the system, for the first year livestock owners will be compensated the full value of their livestock when taken from well-managed bomas. Strays left outside the boma at night will only be compensated at 30 percent value. Boma requirements increase after a year and no compensation will be rewarded for livestock left outside.
"Ultimately what you want to do is increase responsibility by the cattle owners," said Packer, who added that compensation programs are always very tricky ventures where the line between encouraging personal responsibility among the farmers must be balanced with fair compensation when livestock is taken by a predator.
Editor's Note: The Kilimanjaro Lion Conservation Project is one of two projects funded through a joint conservation initiative of National Geographic and Busch Entertainment Corporation to address urgent conservation concerns. The initiative was announced July 16. The second project, the development of a device boaters could use to help them avoid collision with manatees, is featured in a separate report published by National Geographic News. A list of recent stories about research supported by the National Geographic Society may be found at the bottom of this page.
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