Shivani Bhalla: ‘The most important word is conservationist

Shivani Bhalla is a scientist and explorer working with National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative and Kenya’s Samburu communities to reduce livestock loss to carnivores. In particular, Bhalla monitors the movement and health of Kenya’s 2,000 remaining lions—lions that live both inside and outside protected areas.

Despite being one of the continent’s most iconic species, lion populations across Africa are threatened by agricultural and industrial development that crowd wildlife into shrinking and isolated habitats.

“As lions struggle to find enough of their natural prey, such as antelope,” Bhalla says, “they target livestock”—cows, donkey, sheep, camels. This invites “retaliatory killing”, in which impacted communities shoot, spear, or poison lions.

Bhalla and her team at Ewaso Lions have created successful community programs to foster conservation and coexistence between communities and the lions who share their habitat. Some of these programs include:

  • Warrior Watch, a peer-to-peer network of Samburu warriors who serve as wildlife ambassadors and first responders to lion conflict.
Photograph by Ewaso Lions
  • Mama Simba, which empowers Samburu women through education, conservation training, beadwork enterprise, and environmental stewardship.
Photograph by Kat Keane Hogue, National Geographic
  • Lion Kids Camp, which educates and inspires a new generation of wildlife conservationists through wildlife education, safaris, and conservation-themed activities.

Navigating the relationship between agrarian communities that depend on livestock and the carnivores that can threaten them can be difficult. “As a lion conservationist, which comes first for me? Do I get upset at the cows encroaching into the lion’s territory, or do I accept that this is a time when people have no choice?”

Ultimately, Bhalla rejects the choice.

Yes,” she says, “I am a lion conservationist, but the most important word is conservationist.”

Dig deeper into Shivani Bhalla’s outreach and research with our blog and video resources. She writes about drought in Samburu on our blog here, and engages with classes of schoolchildren all over the world in our Explorer Classroom event here.

Learn more about Shivani, the Big Cats Initiative, and other National Geographic Society projects with our interactive timeline.


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