Are you brave enough to be a lion guard? A lion guard, wearing a lion-like mask, demonstrates how he scares off lions using a plastic horn during a training session at their base in Hwange, south west of Zimbabwe's capital Harare. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)
Are you brave enough to be a lion guard?
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Standing 20 feet from a lion, Charles Tshuma was armed with just a plastic horn. He and some neighbors blew the vuvuzelas to frighten away the lion, but the big cat did not budge.
 
They kept blowing their horns and shouting and screaming until the lion turned away and ambled back into Hwange National Park, leaving Tshuma's rural community.
 
It's not always so easy, said Tshuma.
 
"Sometimes people in the village do not want to join in to chase away the lions, choosing instead to lock themselves indoors," he said.
 
That is the life of Zimbabwe's lion guards, brave community members selected and trained to prevent attacks on humans and cattle by big cats who stray from the unfenced Hwange park, which sprawls over 5,625 square miles in western Zimbabwe.
 
The killing of Cecil the lion by an American hunter near Hwange Park in July caused international outrage. But the biggest threat to Hwange's more than 500 lions is conflict with surrounding cattle farmers, researchers say. The innovative lion guard program is designed to protect both humans and lions.
 
Oxford University's Lions Research Project has tracked and studied over 30 lion prides (families) in its 15 years here. Seeing many attacks by lions wandering out of the park, the researchers in 2007 launched the Long Shields program to reduce lion-human conflicts.
 
Since then, there has been a 40 percent decline in those conflicts, according to Brent Stapelkamp, a researcher with the Oxford project. Many of Hwange's lions have collars with satellite tracking devices so the researchers can inform surrounding villages when and where lions have left the park.
 
Equipped with mountain bikes, mobile phones and a GPS tracker, the guards go to the area to turn back the straying lions. They blow their vuvuzelas and alert other members of the community. People then gather, carrying whips and sticks and some wearing lion-like masks. They play drums and clap wooden blocks together to scare away the lions. They also use bright lights and light watch fires at night.
 
The name Long Shields refers to the Matabele warriors of the late 19th century who were known as "the people of the long shields," for the tall rawhide shields they carried into battle.
 
Even though there's an average of 30 lions-human conflicts per month, communities surrounding Hwange have seen a decline in lions attacking cattle.
 
"We definitely know that the program has actually been able to chase some lions from the community back into the park so in that way it becomes effective," said Lovelater Sedede, a parks ecologist, but she warns: "Lions running away from the sound of vuvuzelas do not totally eradicate the problem. Lions could get used to it and hence there is need for more research methods to fight lion and human conflict."
 
The surrounding communities are pleased with the results.
 
"We have noticed that the challenges from predators have gone down ... our animals are protected and the predators are kept away," said Vincent Mangenyo, a local leader.
 
Forty percent of the fatalities of lions in the Oxford study are at the hands of livestock owners or as a result of their attacks on livestock, said Stapelkamp, representing the single biggest cause of death.
 
"I can't ... tell the world that lions are the most important thing in the world and we must conserve them," he said. "I can't, because there are people who are hungry, starving in Zimbabwe. They lose all their livestock to a lion in a night."
 
But thanks to the Long Shield guards, not only are livestock saved, noted Stapelkamp, so are lions.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why is scaring off the lions the best defense?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (7)
  • baylees-day
    10/23/2015 - 08:03 a.m.

    I like how they are trying to find a good solution to protect both the lions and the people. However talk about putting your life on the line. That's a dangerous job, you never know if a lion is gonna pounce rather then move away. But like the article said its not the best nor a permanent solution, hopefully they will come up with a more effective way soon.

  • bone,michael-cas
    10/23/2015 - 11:03 a.m.

    1. Scaring off the lions is the best defense because there are not that many lions left in the wild and killing them would most likely make them endangered if not extinct.

    2. I think this article is very interesting because these brave men stand up against lions to protect their homes and animals.

  • holdenv-day
    10/23/2015 - 12:03 p.m.

    If I could i would definitely do this. lions are amazing animals. I have always wanted to see one in the wild. However just having plastic horns against a full grown lion is some risky business. Lions male or female can be extremely aggressive. I would do this job but i would bring more protection. This was a good article.

  • benjaminc-day
    10/26/2015 - 02:36 p.m.

    Brave people in Zimbabwe aim to keep lions away from humans and cattle to help everyone. As poachers and hunters kill more lions and big game in Africa, many more animals are teetering on the edge of extinction. The reason for this poaching is because of the rising value of things like ivory from rhino horns and elephant tusks, as well as tiger and lion fur. Lions are also killed when they come in contact with and attack humans and people have to respond by killing them to stay safe. This is a good solution to a problem because many people would probably just want to kill the lions to make it easier but if we keep doing that to solve our problems, we will have no animals left. Obviously in Africa conflict between people and lions will happen, but if people continue doing safe things like this to protect both humans and people, we can see a peaceful coexistence for both species.

  • jordynd-day
    10/27/2015 - 05:00 p.m.

    I personally would never even think about doing this job. I would be scared out of my mind. I give props to the people that do this because it has to get your adrenaline pumping. Wild animals are so unpredictable and I've been taught to stay away. I'm even too scared to go near a deer.

  • austini-lam
    11/02/2015 - 09:50 a.m.

    This is a very good idea to help the lions and to protect the humans of Zimbabwe. These men are very brave.

  • sierrab-ste
    11/02/2015 - 08:06 p.m.

    This is really cool and I'd love to do this, but at the same time I'd be scared. At any given second that lion could attack and it could be the end of my life. This is a risky job but a really cool one. How many people can go home and tell their family and friends that they spend every day working with lions?

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