LALPARASAROI Munteli (30), KENYA

THE GODDESS OF THE LIONS

Over a period of 26 years, this prize has received many original nominations, but this one involving lion conservation is unquestionably one of the most original. Populations of large mammals are declining at an alarming rate, especially in Africa where the lion population alone has decreased by 43% in the last 20 years, reaching a low of 20’000, of which a meager 2000 in Kenya.

 Alongside elephants and rhinos, lions could disappear in the next 20 years, due to habitat loss and, in the case of lions, conflict with humans, especially cattle herders.

Formerly lion conservation was purely a man’s business - that is, until Munteli and her friend Mparasoroi stepped in with their Mama Simba project. This project is getting women connected to the cause of lion conservation in a real and practical way.

As a young teenager, Munteli became the 4th wife of an old man of the Samburu tribe who died soon after their marriage, thereby condemning her to widowhood for life according to Samburu traditions. But a few years later, Munteli teamed up with an older woman from her village, Mparasoroi.

They were on a clear mission, i.e. to get women involved in lion conservation on par with the Samburu warriors who had been hired by the highly original “Ewaso lions project” founded by Dr. Shivani Bhalla, an authentic community conservation project working with local people from the villages, an extreme rarity in the world of animal conservation. These illiterate women had to learn everything – to read and write, to sign bank documents, to manipulate portable telephones, and thus for the first-time taking control of their own lives. The women involved named their project Mama Simba. Munteli then learned to drive a car, the first traditional Samburu woman ever to do this. And she now sends WhatsApp messages in Samburu, Kiswahili and English!

Samburu women are also known for the extraordinary beauty and intricacy of their beadwork they proudly wear. Munteli opened up new avenues of income helping them set up a trade for beaded lions, i.e. small puppet-sized lions covered with beads artistically arranged.

There are now around 20 women working in lion conservation projects aiming at non- conflictual relations between cattle breeders and lions. Munteli herself has become a powerful role model for all women, has enabled families to increase their income and broken out of paralyzing traditional behavioral models. She is an amazing trailblazer who aptly illustrates the saying that “our only limits are our belief in the existence of limits.”

Their work contributes to achieving UN Sustainable Development Goals-Agenda 2030 Targets #1, #4, #5 & #15