Changing Planet

Two heroic efforts to save the King of the Jungle

In celebration of Big Cat Week, National Geographic salutes the heroic efforts of conservationists to save Lion populations from poachers and habitat conflict, such as the Ewaso Lions Warrior Watch project and the anti-snaring campaign of the Zambian Carnivore Program.

Samburu warriors, left, keeping tabs on a lioness; Thandiwe Mweetwa, right, tracking a lion’s radio transmitter.


Meet the Samburu Valley warriors

Photographs courtesy Ewaso Lions

Jeneria Lekilelei, a warrior from the Samburu tribe of Northern Kenya, has dedicated his life to wildlife conservation. In 2010, he founded Warrior Watch to encourage Samburu men to conserve lions. The Ewaso Lions organization records wildlife distribution data and incidents of human-lion conflict. Since then, the local lions population has risen from 11 animals to 50. However, increased periods of drought in recent years force wildlife and people to compete for the same resources, oftentimes causing conflict.

Photograph by Tony Allport
Photograph by Tony Allport

The Warrior Watch team warns local herders when lions are in the area, to help keep livestock safe:

Photograph by Tyrel Bernardini
Ride with the warriors in this video of a team of Samburu watchers fight to protect lions under the harshest conditions.Tweet this


Meet Thandiwe Mweetwa

Mweetwa is working to protect large carnivores in her home country as manager of conservation education of the Zambian Carnivore Programme. She has dedicated her life to preserving Africa’s disappearing lion population through scientific research, animal rescue, and community outreach.  Mweetwa’s efforts have focused largely in the Luangwa River Valley, which she describes: “It holds Zambia’s biggest lion population, its largest leopard population, its second-largest dog population. So ecologically it’s a key area … important in the country, but also in the region.”

Photograph by Matthew Becker

“What makes me hopeful about the work that I do and just conservation work in general is that most of the problems are tied to human behavior.  If we’re able to influence human behavior in any way, there’s definitely a chance for species worldwide—big cats and all the other animals.” 

— Thandiewe Mweetwa

Photograph by Martin Edstrom

Mweetwa, front, and Zambia Carnivore Programme director Matt Becker, back, looking at a pride of lions. Spending most of their time in the field, they track the movement and dynamics of lions and other carnivores – like wild dogs and hyenas – throughout South Luangwa National Park and other sites in Zambia.

Photograph courtesy Thandiwe Mweetwa

Join Mweetwa in this video on a mission to track down threatened lions:

The National Geographic Society’s Big Cats Initiative supports scientists and conservationists working to save big cats in the wild. With your help, we’ve supported more than 100 innovative projects to protect seven iconic big cat species in 27 countries and built more than 1,600 livestock enclosures to protect livestock, big cats, and people. Together we’re helping big cats and communities thrive. Learn more about the initiative.

Rolf recently joined National Geographic Society's Digital department, as Photo Editor/Digital. His career has been mostly in commercial photo art directing and re-focusing his work into conservation is fulfillment of a longtime goal.
  • Ross Wind



    The lion title “king of the jungle” and “king of the forest” originate from the 19th century, India. The real lion title is thousands of years older. In the early times of
    the Mesopotamian civilizations the lion was proclaimed “mighty” and “king of the beasts”. In those times several powerful animals roamed this region including the Caspian tiger, the brown bear, the leopard, buffalo, hyenas, elephants. At a very early time many kings had private menageries and organized animal combats. Early civilizations were closer to nature than us. The most impressive animals was the lion and the bull in second place. The early civilizations regarded lion as the optimum force of nature. All antique kings and warriors wanted to be associated with the lion. War gods were often associated with lions. Lions were also regarded as the most powerful guardian as they are in nature, lions would guard and defend their territory furiously. For thousands of years kings and rulers sat on a lion’s thrones even in Asia. The lion is the symbol of universal power the most iconic animal in history.


    Lions deal with greater challenges than any other land predator on earth. First no big land predators have the brutal and violent lifestyle than lions. In fact lions received hit after hit since they are cubs until they die. Second, lions used more muscle power in hunting. They show their fearless by doing frontal attacks on single and sometimes on a whole buffalo herd! A single lion may decide to hold his ground no matter what and willingly combat more than one adversary at the same time. Because they are more physical in hunts and they fight a lot more, no other predator gets in his life as many scars and wounds than lions. If lions
    can survive all of this, it is because they are exceptionally strong and tough.

    THE HUNTING CHALLENGES (most aggressive animals are from Africa)

    Felines are designed for short burst ambush. Lions are located is very challenging regions. Lions are big cats. In open fields with short vegetation camouflage is very difficult and in some region impossible. Plus, it is easier for preys to escape in open fields than in thicker bushes. Adding to this, the lion’s main preys are middle size to large-sized. For examples from wildebeest (up to 250 kg 550 lb) and zebras (up to 400 kg/ 880 lb) to mature Cape buffalo and Giant Eland (up to
    1000 kg 2200 lb), hippos (1,500 kg , 3,310 lb or more), giraffes (1,930 kg, 4,250 lb) even sub-adult rhinos, African elephants and rare cases of adults. Lions face greater challenges than any other predators on earth. Lions do not only pull down weight-wise the biggest but also the tallest
    preys on earth!


    The say that lions only hunt in pride is an urban legend. In some cases where there is no possibility of cover, the only solution is a group hunting. Otherwise, normally all lions learn to hunt in a pride, in duo and as a single hunter. People don’t realize that the single lion has the greatest prey to a predator’s weight ratio among all the land mammalian in the world. We now understand why in 2012 the National Geographic concludes that “no animal is safe from lions” and the lion
    figure as the only feline on the ten toughest lands mammalian on earth. The king of the beasts regularly hunt the biggest animals he is the world’s top
    predator. These are all great reasons to protect the lion.

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