Roaming the plains of Tanzania, lions have always been a powerful symbol of African pride, representing strength, courage, and unity. However, the lion population worldwide has fallen from 200,000 a century ago to around 20,000 today, mainly due to habitat loss driven by human activities. Tanzania is one of the last strongholds for lions, and now has the largest wild lion population in the world, estimated at about 8,000 animals. This incredible conservation achievement is thanks to the concerted efforts of the government and many Tanzanians who are working to ensure that lions can prosper, together with the country and its people.
A newly released documentary, titled Taifa La Simba, or Land of the Lion, developed by WildAid and partners, highlights the remarkable achievements made by Tanzanians in protecting this iconic species, as well as the crucial role of community conservation efforts in preserving the balance between humans and wildlife. It is a story that inspires hope and serves as a reminder of the benefits that nature provides, and of the vital importance of wildlife to a sustainable future for us all.
Lions are crucial to tourism in Tanzania. Wildlife tourism accounts for around 17% of Tanzania's GDP and provides about 1.5 million jobs, with lions being the star attraction. One lion living for 10 years generates around eight billion Tanzanian shillings ($3 million) in tourism revenue. "Most of the tourists who come to our country want to see lions,” said Alfred Sakita, who has been working as a safari guide for 21 years. “This is because lions are brave animals and are known as kings of the jungle.”
Lions also provide other important benefits to communities who live alongside them, providing income that in turn improves access to education, health services, and veterinary programmes. “Due to the presence of wildlife, this health centre enables us to provide a timely service and have access to equipment and medication”, said a clinical officer at Makifu Health Centre, bordering Ruaha National Park. Twelves miles (20km) to the north, Abdallah Rashid, headmaster at Kitisi Primary School, highlighted the positive impact of the community support provided by conservation organisations. “Meals at school ensure a good rate of attendance,” he said. “Three to four children were using one desk, now two children share a desk.”
The importance of lions to Tanzania goes beyond the economic benefits they bring. Maasai culture has always held lions in high regard. However, whereas the Maasai traditionally believed that a young man should kill a lion to become a warrior, they have adapted their cultural practices to coexist with lions. The Maasai now celebrate their traditions and rituals without harming lions but by defending them. "We used to hunt lions because we saw them as our enemies”, said Lazaro Ole Tekero, a Maasai community member, “but now we understand the benefits of these animals. We know that lions are important to the world, not just here. So as a community, we are proud to play this role in protecting and conserving them”.
Conserving lion and other wildlife habitats in Tanzania also provides environmental benefits, such as access to fresh water for human activities and livestock. Forests, rivers, and grasslands are integral to the survival of lions, but they are also crucial to the survival of people. Protecting these habitats ensures that people have access to water for human activities and livestock. Crops such as tomatoes can be grown thanks to access to water provided by rivers in these ecosystems, and are sold in towns and cities, providing food for people and economic livelihoods for farmers.
Tanzanians are uniting to safeguard their remarkable wildlife heritage and to seek a prosperous future for both lions and the local communities. While other parts of the world have compromised their wildlife in pursuit of economic development, Tanzania has an opportunity to demonstrate a better approach.
The challenge lies in conserving a nation’s cultural and natural heritage in a manner that allows both people and wild animals to thrive harmoniously. By becoming the global leader in lion conservation, Tanzanians can uphold their country's reputation as the land of the lion and inspire the world with a model of coexistence.
Tanzania: Land of the Lion premiered on ITV Tanzania on August 9th. The English-language version is now available online, and a Swahili version will be published next week.