Shifting Cultural Perspectives On Lions In Tanzania
Conservationists estimate that there are between 30,000 and 40,000 lions left in Africa. In Tanzania, where about 40% of lions reside, populations have declined due to changing land use, disease, and trophy hunting, as well deliberate killing in retaliation for preying on farmed animals. Among the Sukuma, Tanzania’s largest cow-farming ethnic group, retaliatory lion killers have traditionally visited households to perform a special dance and gain monetary rewards for their service. However, in recent years men have been venturing outside of lion predation areas to kill lions who do not pose a threat, simply in order to obtain the monetary rewards.
This paper, published in Biological Conservation, reports on a case study on perceptions of lion killing in Mpimbwe, an administrative division in western Tanzania with a large Sukuma population. The authors interviewed and analyzed data from 198 households in Mpimbwe, on topics including changes in lion killings in the area, farmed animal predation incidents, number of dancer visits received by households, history of dancers within households, how long households had lived in the area, whether households rewarded dancers, and household wealth and animal holdings.
The authors found that, while the proportion of households visited by a dancer had risen steadily, recent farmed animal predation incidents were negligible. Only two households reported having lost animals to lions in the past 12 months. In regards to perceptions of hunting, 96% percent of households visited by dancers characterized lion hunting as having undergone some kind of change, and 72% of households perceiving a shift from avenging to hunting said that the opportunity to acquire wealth through dancing was motivating that change.
Correlative analysis showed that households are more likely to perceive a change in lion-killing motivation if they are frequently visited by dancers and if they have lived for a long time in the area. Also, dancers target households that have more dancers among their extended kin, that are wealthy, and that have been settled in Mpimbwe for a long time. Dancers are less likely to be rewarded by households that perceive a change in dancers’ motivations and are more likely to be rewarded by households that have dancers among their extended kin.
The authors conclude that there is a “persistence of mutual rewarding behavior among cliques of families that engage in lion dancing.” However, there is also “evidence of donor fatigue and clear reluctance to offer rewards in households” as well as growing antipathy to opportunistic lion hunting that “holds potential for a powerful grassroots conservation movement.” Accordingly, the authors have started a campaign, WASIMA (Watu, Simba na Mazingira or People, Lions and the Environment), to spread awareness of non-retaliatory lion killing and create formal sanctions for illegally killing lions and rewarding lion hunters. The paper, as well as the campaign itself, may provide guidance for advocates seeking to leverage collective, community-based action to make an impact for endangered species.