At Lion Guardians, our greatest successes have been borne out of seemingly insurmountable challenges, and 2020 was no exception. We found extraordinary opportunities that enabled us to hone our work, further improve outcomes for lions and communities, and reconsider some of the basic assumptions behind conservation. We are proud to share the growth and impacts we have achieved over the last year.
When COVID cast its shadow around the world, everything suddenly became uncertain—including how we could protect lions, communities, and our team in the midst of a pandemic. But we took this as an opportunity to strategically reflect on nearly every action in our program, looking at the safety, efficiency, and outcomes of each. Through this reflection, we found ways to streamline our research and conflict work, as well as expand our support to communities in this difficult time. And as a result, we ended up with a safer and more effective conservation program and a deeper relationship with local stakeholders.
Our successes and those of our conservation allies have contributed to unprecedented outcomes in the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem. Today, many Maasai in the area—especially young people—actively want lions in their ecosystem. The local lion population has been steadily increasing for years, and lions are now regularly dispersing from our ecosystem to new areas, providing critical genetic diversity to populations across East Africa.
Focusing on our conflict mitigation work gave us the opportunity to better meet current needs in our ecosystem. During 2020, we grew our team and expanded our toolbox to include innovative mitigation tools rooted in both traditional knowledge and rigorous science, enabling us to respond more quickly and effectively when hotspots flare.
We also doubled down on our efforts to proactively avoid lion-livestock conflict, such as locating lost livestock and employing “master herders” to improve local husbandry practices. We are even working to predict when and where hotspots may occur, based on various biological and social variables—such as moon phases and school holidays—and adapting our work in response. Read our case study on moon phases here.
This year, as COVID and increased conflict prompted us to take an introspective look at our work, we pioneered a large-scale project to improve the understanding and use of metrics in the field of conservation. We created a framework of questions to help organizations understand and define the system in which they work, the goals they have for their work, and the potential effects of their actions. For example:
We are now using this framework to evaluate and improve our own efforts, such as honing our conflict work and collecting metrics better suited to our goals. We have also begun to share this framework more widely to assist other organizations, starting with Women for the Environment: Africa (WE Africa).
We are energized by the new knowledge, experience, and perspective we gained in 2020, yet in order to take full advantage of what we learned, we need to share it with others. Last year brought fresh opportunities to connect with colleagues and supporters around the world through both traditional and unexpected avenues. Our team delved deeply into collaborative initiatives, published new scientific findings, and embraced the pandemic-inspired explosion of virtual venues.
Our LINC database garnered requests from potential new users from Zimbabwe to India. In 2020, the LINC team focused on adapting the servers, system, and personnel to enable growth in LINC’s user base and its underlying AI technology.
Via the PRIDE Lion Conservation Alliance, we continued to help shape collaborative conservation efforts, including co-hosting the 2020 Pathways Conservation Conference in Kenya. This was the largest and most diverse Pathways event to date, and included a four-day women’s conservation leadership training for 30 senior managers from 14 countries in Africa.
Over the last three years, we have helped conceive, create, and develop WE Africa, a 12-month environmental leadership program. WE Africa launched in January 2021 with a founding cohort of 20 diverse women leaders from 12 African countries; you can learn more in this video.
We collaborated to help build the International Wildlife Coexistence Network, a brand-new initiative that provides expert assistance, training, collaboration, and shared research to enable coexistence around the world. Lion Guardians serves on the IWCN’s ‘Coexistence Council’ and helps model the implementation and benefits of community-led solutions.
We continued to help shape collaborative conservation efforts via the PRIDE Lion Conservation Alliance, including co-hosting the 2020 Pathways Conservation Conference in Kenya, the largest and most diverse Pathways conference to date. PRIDE also ran a four-day women’s conservation leadership training for 30 senior managers from 14 countries in Africa.
In 2020, the pandemic gave rise to an uncertain fundraising environment, so we tightened our belts and became more fiscally conservative. We reduced funding to program areas affected by COVID lockdowns such as impact scaling, since we were unable to travel for partner engagements. Yet 2020 gave us opportunities to scale our work using lower-cost and accessible virtual venues. Meanwhile, we directed a higher proportion of our resources toward our Lion Guardians Amboseli conflict mitigation efforts and, in doing so, sustained and grew our core work. By hiring needed conflict team members and giving performance raises, we also bolstered our support from the community.
Below, we detail revenue received through our fiscal sponsor, Lion Guardians U.S., as well as expenditures by program area for our field operations in Kenya and our support of other grassroots initiatives in Africa. Lion Guardians is looking toward the future as we build our short- and long-term reserves to serve as a permanent source of income and strengthen our financial position.
Opportunity truly does not roar as it approaches; in 2020, our team had to work hard to recognize opportunities and make difficult decisions to capitalize on them. As a result of these efforts, we are better able to evaluate our impacts, focus our work, and connect with others. We are committed to making further progress on these efforts in 2021 and beyond, by:
The entire Lion Guardians team is invigorated by the prospect of a brighter future for communities, lions, and conservation. Thank you to the generous network of supporters that continues to make our impacts possible and enables us to seize opportunities that come our way.