In the Maasai heartland of southern Kenya, some young men have swapped their ancestral role as lion-hunters to instead protect the big cats under a conservation scheme that also aims to help their community.
Among them is Leiyio Lengete, a “Moran” — or warrior — who wears a scarlet blanket over his shoulders, a blue one around his hips, and a multitude of fine multicoloured beaded bracelets on his forearms, ankles and neck.
Large half-moon shaped metal earrings and a beaded headband set off his long elaborately braided hair, but instead of a traditional spear, he clasps a GPS receiver.
The organisation behind the scheme Lengete works with, “Lion Guardians,” has set up camp in Selenkay Reserve, not far from Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain in neighbouring Tanzania, which is hidden by clouds on this warm September day.
In a previous role, the men would have killed the animals as part of a Maasai rite known as “olamayio”, which is traditionally seen as the highest act of courage, winning prestige and praise for the hunter. Lions also were hunted in reprisal for attacks on the community’s livestock herd.
But for Lengete and the other young Morans, those days are over: once the lionesses have been found and their GPS location sent to camp, a vehicle arrives carrying the scientific head and co-founder of the scheme, Stephanie Dolrenry.