Large cat conservationist Tina M. Ramme ’90 is currently the director of The Center for Lion Conservation and Research in Kenya and is the president of the Lion Conservation Fund. Since initiating this program in 2006, not one lion has been killed by retribution—one of the best records in East Africa.
She initiated the Lion Warrior Project in 2003, training and paying Sumburu warriors as field assistants and scouts to monitor and protect lions, mitigate human-wildlife conflict in their communities, and implement conservation education in local schools and villages for over fifteen years—all while keeping their cattle safe. “Samburu warriors herd cattle, placing them at the interface of human-wildlife conflict,” Ramme said. “They frequently face lions while herding cattle, often their family’s only means of survival in a harsh semi-arid climate.”
The project has been a success, eliminating retribution killings and providing a model for other predator conservation who have implemented it with comparable success.
With nearly twenty years of experience working with large cat conservation and biological research that has led her to work in Australia, the Pacific Islands, New Zealand, Central America, the Galapagos, and in the Amazon, Ramme now spends most of her time in wildlife research, ecological restoration, and large cat conservation in eastern and southern Africa and is a professor of biology in the Boston area.
We caught Ramme as she disembarked from a plane in Nairobi. She was kind enough to answer a few quick questions about her work.
Q. What things have you learned about big cats?
A. They are decreasing in numbers at an unprecedented rate! A healthy, intact habitat is critical for the survival of big cats, their prey, and all species they share habitat with— including humans. Climate change is likely impacting critical habitat for big cats through land degradation, desertification, reduced viable land mass, and allowing undesirable invasive species to take over critical grassland ecosystems. Large predators need space! Development and globalization also result in large-scale habitat loss and fragmentation, the primary cause of big cat population declines. Post-resident nomadic males can have an important ecological role and contribute to a stable lion population—even after they’ve been ousted from a pride.
Q. Have any of these findings helped in any way in conservation and/or restoration efforts?
A. The key to a sustainable and healthy lion population is including local people as partners, not adversaries. Habitat restoration has become a primary initiative in our conservation efforts. Tapping into indigenous knowledge can provide important insights into historical population trends and habitat changes, so including community elders in conservation plans is essential. It’s as important to protect the post-resident nomadic male as it is the rest of the pride.
Q. If you could send a message to the world regarding big cats what would it be?
A. Big cat populations have declined rapidly in just a few years and—unless there is an immediate intervention—they could be lost. In just two decades, lions have declined 45-90% in some parts of the African continent and have been completely extirpated from others. When a species like the African lion, which is a prolific breeder and has a great deal of dietary and habitat requirement variation, exhibits rapid population declines, it heralds a very dire situation for the planet and all wildlife. We need to understand—and address—the underlying causes of the ecological dysfunction driving this trend before it’s too late.