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High Fives Make Big Differences for Big Cats

Earlier this year, National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative (BCI) asked big cat lovers around the world to High Five Give $5 Save Big Cats to help raise awareness and funds for big cat conservation.  The goal was to create a virtual global high five chain for World Lion Day on August 10th, 2015.

Participants shared the virtual high five posts on Facebook and Twitter, and donated a minimum of $5 to the BCI. Participants were encouraged to share their own high-five video with the hashtag #5forBigCats.  Celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Paul Stanley, and others donated, participated, and helped spur total donations well in excess of $200,000The proceeds raised allowed BCI to scale up long-term field conservation projects on the ground in Kenya and Tanzania run by Shivani Bhalla and Amy Dickman.

Shivani Bhalla is the founder and executive director of Ewaso Lions. The primary focus of her work is to reduce human-lion conflict in Northern Kenya and promote coexistence via educational and community-based conservation programs. The BCI has become a key supporter in Ewaso Lion’s Warrior Watch program. This specific program engages the Samburu warriors to become community ambassadors for lion conservation in their region. Ewaso Lions is able to achieve this goal by building upon the traditional protection role of these warriors while encompassing human-carnivore conflict mitigation techniques. The Warrior Watch program has influenced local perceptions toward conservation, increased tolerance of large carnivores, and empowered the warriors.

Shivani Bhalla in the field with Samburu Warriors (Photo courtesy of National Geographic)
Shivani Bhalla in the field with Samburu Warriors (Photo courtesy of Ewaso Lions)

The allocated funds from High Five. Give $5. Save Big Cats allowed the Warrior Watch program to greatly expand their numbers and reach. This funding will be used to train more warriors and secure long term sustainability for their field program. Ewaso Lions will be able to expand their work with local communities in Northern Kenya, leading to a greater ability to support big cat conservation in the Laikipia-Samburu ecosystem of Northern Kenya.

Ewaso Lions team (Photo courtesy of National Geographic)
Ewaso Lions team (Photo courtesy of Ewaso Lions)

Amy Dickman is the director of the Ruaha Carnivore Project (RCP) in Tanzania. The Ruaha landscape is home to the second largest lion population in the world. However, lions face severe conflict with humans in this region due to retaliatory killing.  When lions harm local villagers livestock, villagers retaliate and kill the lions. The RCP works toward mitigating conflict through the use of boma (fence) fortification, a community benefits program and a trial livestock guarding program with Anatolian Shepherds.

Maasai man and improved boma (Photo courtesy of National Geographic)
Livestock owner and improved boma (Photo courtesy of Ruaha Carnivore Project)

With the allocated High Five. Give $5. Save Big Cats funds the RCP will extend their boma predator-proofing projected, scale up community benefit programs, and assist the livestock guard dog program to test crossbreeds and local dogs in contrast to Anatolian Shepherds, which are very costly.  The community benefit programs have shown great success improving attitudes of target households. Presently, the RCP has fortified more than 100 bomas, with a 99% success rate in preventing depredation. Increase community benefits will allow the RCP to focus on healthcare, education and veterinary health.

BCI Grantee Dr. Amy Dickman stands alongside members of the Barabaig tribe, with whom the Ruaha Carnivore Project works to conserve big cats in this part of rural Tanzania.
BCI Grantee Dr. Amy Dickman stands alongside members of the Barabaig tribe, with whom the Ruaha Carnivore Project works to conserve big cats in this part of rural Tanzania (Photo courtesy of Ruaha Carnivore Project).

Big cat conservation is no easy task, but thanks the overwhelming enthusiasm from the public to high five for big cats, these two projects will be able to increase their efforts toward impacting these magnificent carnivores and the communities with which they exist.

Post drafted by Kelly Flanigan.

About the Big Cats Initiative:

National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative (BCI) was founded in 2009 with Explorers-in-Residence, filmmakers and conservationists Dereck and Beverly Joubert as a long-term effort to halt the decline of big cats in the wild. BCI supports efforts to save big cats through assessment activities, on-the-ground conservation projects, education and a global public-awareness campaign, “Cause an Uproar,” launched in partnership with Nat Geo WILD. BCI has funded more than 83 field-based conservation projects in 26 countries. For more information, visit CauseAnUproar.org.