By Katya Cengel
Most people assume that Colleen Begg, co-founder of an organization devoted to saving African lions, spends a lot of time with the big cats.
In truth, she is rarely around lions. Her days in Mozambique with the Niassa Carnivore Project—a nonprofit that promotes co-existing with lions—are consumed by human interactions: meeting with people in local communities and demonstrating how they can grow more and better food. (Read "Living With Lions" in National Geographic magazine.)
The main threats lions face in the Niassa National Reserve (map)—getting caught in traps meant for other animals and retaliatory killings—come from people, said Begg. So the Carnivore Project focuses on helping humans. Its mantra is "if you get it right for people, you'll get it right for lions."
It's a philosophy that many in the conservation community are now adopting. The days when foreign organizations would come in and tell locals what to do are over, said Paul Thomson, managing director of Ewaso Lions, a nonprofit that encourages co-existing with lions in Kenya.
"People now recognize that none of these species are really going to last without [people\," he said. "It's not just paying lip service to local communities, but actually making sure they benefit from the presence of wildlife."
Wildlife organizations have been educating local communities about wildlife conservation for decades, but focusing the majority of their efforts on improving the situation for local people is a more recent development.
"It's the next new thing," said Darla Hillard, development director of the Snow Leopard Conservancy, a California-based organization that advocates community-based conservation.
Like any idea, though, the people-centric strategy has its drawbacks and critics. When you are dealing with people, getting results isn't always easy, said Begg. More....