Over the years that followed his first kill, Saitoti killed four more lions. He was one of the best lion killers of his generation, a hero to his people. The Maasai simply couldn’t imagine living in a world without lions, nor would they want to.
“If there were no lions in Maasailand, it would mean something bad,” said Saitoti. “A lion’s roar is a sign of happiness in the wild, and of good fortune.”
But then everything changed.
The human population in the Amboseli Basin had been growing rapidly for decades, and in 2006 it reached a tipping point when Amboseli’s 100 lions found themselves living alongside 35,000 Maasai and two million head of livestock.
With little room left for lions and their wild prey, lions began killing livestock like never before, and the Maasai began killing lions, not as a rite of passage, but in retaliation. In 2006, the Maasai speared or poisoned 42 lions. It was a fundamental cultural shift that threatened to wipe out the lions of Amboseli.
“There used to be so many lions when I was younger,” Saitoti would say, years later. “We almost wiped them out.”
At the time, however, Saitoti had no inkling of the bigger picture.
After killing his fourth lion in 2006, Saitoti was arrested, briefly imprisoned and fined 70,000 Kenyan shillings (around £465); although widespread, lion-killing has, like all hunting, been illegal in Kenya since 1977. Not long after Saitoti was released from prison, some of his cows went missing. Convinced that a lion had taken them, he set off in pursuit, tracking two lions through the bush. Hours later, he crept up to within a metre or two of a sleeping male lion and speared it through the chest.
www.bbc.com 2021-09-14 19:45:58