Living With Lions

Photographs & Text by Brent Stirton

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This essay examines multifaceted aspects of living with lions today. It questions the hypocrisy of the West in what we ask of Africans that we would never ask of ourselves. Images of lion attack victims and their changed lives bring the reality of this home to the viewer. This essay moves on to look at controversial “canned lion” hunting and breeding practices in South Africa. This sees large lion farms breeding lions exclusively for trophy hunting. This essay includes prison like breeding farms and takes the viewer on a lion hunt with an American bow hunter. Hunting concessions in Africa now outweigh traditional wildlife reserves in terms of wild land preserved. Hunting also employs hundreds of thousands of people across the continent, making the emotionally charged case that lion hunts are here to stay as a part of conservation. As tiger numbers dwindle in the wild, lion bone is now replacing tiger bone in traditional eastern medicine. This demand has all kinds of implications for lions. Carcass yards are seen with bones drying in the sun.
The essay examines traditional relationships between African tribal groups and the lion. Sakuma tribesmen, the Maasai and the Barabai of Kenya and Tanzania were all photographed. These pastoralists have a long history of lion killing in defense of their cattle and their masculinity. All of these practices are illegal yet they continue today. In the Amboselli ecosystem of Kenya, a group of Maasai men are thinking differently about ecotourism. Although all former lion killers, they now use technology to track and prevent lion killing. Maasai youth, 11-year-old Richard Turere’s homestead suffered from lion attacks on cattle until Richard built his “Lion Lights” system. Utilizing a car indicator switch and a radio battery, Richard created an inexpensive lighting system that simulates the movement of human beings with torches. There have been no further attacks and his lighting system is now in operation across Maasailand. This essay ends in India, home to the Asiatic lion in Gujarat’s Gir National Park. These are the only lions to exist outside of Africa and are key to state tourism. They once numbered only 117 animals and breeding is key. Numbers are now around 400 and these lions live alongside cattle farmers who have lived in the Gir region for centuries. Their cattle make up around 40% of the diet of the lions. The forestry department compensates farmers and there is harmony with a future.