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LONG LIVE THE KING

Using photography to raise awareness on the extinction of Kenya's lions

Story by Enigma Images September 21st, 2016

The Background

A few years ago, I begun shooting conservation work for the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), a state body put in place by the Kenyan government to conserve and manage Kenya‘s wildlife for the Kenyan people. At first, I thought it would be easy because of my documentary background. It was the opposite. I had to humble myself and learn a few things one being that I had to learn to care. I wont lie. At this point in my life, I had not thought much of nor cared much for the environment. As far as I was concerned, it was there to be used and my thinking was I, most probably, will die before mother nature does a ‘2012’ on us.

But that's the power of photography, and more so to the photographer. The more time you spend on a subject and interact with it, the more you end up understanding why your images MUST cause some change.

This is a story about how I fell in love with lions.

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The problem

Lion numbers are on a sharp decline all over the world. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), lions have been put on the red list and are considered vulnerable. More information here. This became more apparent as I noticed it was getting much harder it was to spot lions on a typical game drive. According to KWS, lion numbers are very low in Kenya, 1,970 to be exact. At current estimations, we are losing them at 100 per year.

The chief cause of this reduction in lion numbers is man.The more our population grows, the more we encroach on wild areas where lions reside. Lions are extremely territorial and their territories stretch for miles on end. The encroachment of human beings on these territories has cause human-wildlife conflict. In a place like the Mara, for example, Maasai communities that lease their land to lodges are making economic gains which enhance their livelihoods. Unfortunately, this is when the human-wildlife conflict cycle begins.What does a traditional Maasai man do when he has more money? He buys more cattle. More cattle means the need for more space so he then goes herding them deeper into the conservation areas. Now, to a lion, a cow is basically meat on a stick. Its the easiest thing to kill. Cows don’t run as fast or even fight back like buffalo or zebra. It is often killed then dragged back to the pride. At this point, the Maasai morans (warriors) track the cow that has been killed and seek retribution. They either hunt the predator down or poison it and its entire pride. Therefore the death of one cow results in the death of a pride of lions.

In addition to human-wildlife conflict, there is a new danger threatening the future of lions that is even worse, wildlife trafficking. Poachers have turned their attention to making serious profits by capturing lion cubs and selling them to collectors in Middle Eastern countries.

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My resolve

With this incredible and devastating facts about the vulnerability of lions, I decided to launch my own conservation project. Towards the end of last year, I launched a project called ‘Long Live the King’ with an exhibition.

The aim of the project is to use photography to get local Kenyans more involved in conservation. Most of the organisations that are concerned with any kind of conservation are run by foreigners or Kenyans of foreign descent whose focus is the international market because thats where most of their funding comes from. I feel that the reason why Kenyans do not contribute to conservation efforts with their time or resources is because they have never truly been part of this conversation to begin with.

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The solution Through PHotography

To this end, LLTK is going to result in:

1.) Exhibitions of my photography of these majestic felines in public spaces. These photo exhibitions shall be accompanied with information from research done by KWS and their partners.

2.) The putting together of an updated conservation magazine for primary schools. This magazine shall first be distributed to schools that line the periphery of conservation areas then, through the help of the Wildlife Clubs of Kenya, it shall hopefully go to all schools in the country. This education arm is crucial and we are going to expand it further to include so many other aspects such as exchange programs, school to school relationships, conservation photography tours and many other activities. Our main goal is to get conservation education entrenched in mainstream curriculum because we believe that these kids (and especially the ones living in or around conservation areas) are the true guardians of our wildlife. If we educate them well in one generation, we can halve human wildlife conflict and in two, bring an end to poaching. Poaching occurs because people only know the value of a dead animal so our goal is to educate them on the value of a living one.

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WHAT CAN YOU DO?

We cannot let lions die out. They are the apex predator in Kenya’s ecosystem. They are the very symbol of the African tourism sector and an icon of our strength as a people. Restoring lion numbers shall balance out the entire ecosystem in a more natural and sustainable way.


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So we need your help to get more images out there. We want our images to start the conversation that shall lead to Kenyans being better informed of this. We want these images at bus stops, in airports, in every office in town, on billboards in schools, on milk cartons…EVERYWHERE!!!

Contact us on info@enigma-images.org and help us achieve these goals.

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Footnote: All images are copyright of Enigma Images Ltd
Kenya