What we do

KopeLion strives for sustainable human-lion coexistence in the the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a multi-use landscape.

Community engagement

KopeLion aims to restore the connectivity for lions between Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater, and to ensure that Ngorongoro Conservation Area continues to be an important component of the Greater Serengeti that hosts an intact ecosystem including its top predators. To do so we engage in participatory lion research and conservation through field-based and closely linked activities in lion monitoring, conflict mitigation, and community outreach. We build upon a 50-year study of the local lion population, providing a unique opportunity to measure the impacts of our efforts on the lions’ population dynamics.

Local engagement is paramount to the continued existence of lions in a multi-use landscape. Thus community support and involvement is at the centre of our efforts. We acknowledge that the pastoralist peoples we work with have a long history of living with wildlife, and a wealth of traditional practices and cultural values that supports coexistence. The raising of awareness of lion-human coexistence is therefore a knowledge exchange between scientists and the local communities.

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To achieve our goal of community based lion conservation we implemented the Lion Guardians model in 2014, in supportive collaboration with Lion Guardians Ltd. This model engages pastoralist warriors and turn them from lion hunters to lion guardians, ultimately empowering them and their communities to take lead for the long term protection of lions.

KopeLion employ local warriors as Ilchokutis or Lion Scouts. We select them based on their “bush skills”, their lion knowledge (skills often found in former lion killers), and respect within their communities. Our warriors protect lions, mitigate human-wildlife conflicts, and assist their communities in various ways – tasks that aligns with their cultural traditions. When lions are near their communities, they warn local herders to steer clear. When livestock go missing, they help the owners search. When livestock enclosures are too weak for predator protection, they help owners reinforce it. With their bush- and lion skills they also collect valued records of lion presence. To date KopeLion has employed over 20 local warriors.


KopeLion gathering, Ngorongoro Conservation Area

KopeLion engages with the community by joining meetings with individuals and groups in various settings; in official meeting halls, in schools, under shady trees, over cups of tea, not the least the many encounters with all those we give lifts to. We now have positive collaboration with local communities that have embraced our efforts, becoming the foremost ambassadors for lions.

Important film project

Read more about our film project here.


Our main research aim is to study the impacts and interactions between lions, people and their livestock, to find ways that promote their continued coexistence. Our research, so far, is focused on lion ecology. The back-bone in our lion research is the long-term monitoring of local lion populations in Ngorongoro Crater and in the Ndutu region to understand the population dynamics and genetic diversity of the lions within Ngorongoro. Since 2011 we expanded our research to include the inhabited central section of Ngorongoro that links Serengeti with Ngorongoro Crater. Studying lions in a complex socio-ecological system involving people of different needs and agendas obviously requires more than lion research. Thus, we plan to increase our collaboration with socio-political scientists to further explore conditions in the governance, socio-cultural and political arenas, and how this can present opportunities for strengthened coexistence.

Our Ilchokuti Kinyi reports on male lion Kimani, September 2016. He helped collar Kimani and could then track him in his home zone. This would help him find lions in his area, and protect them effectively by warning herders. People grew very tolerant to “Kinyi’s lions”. Also the NCA rangers came out on numerous trips to check on the lions, needing Kinyi’s help to find them. Former SS24 became a lion who everyone wanted to come and see, someone that attracts a gathering – he became “Kimani”.

Want to know more?

Snapshots from our daily work
Our study areas
Situation of Ngorongoro lions
Our team

The silent Death of the Lions – a 30 min film from Planet e/ZDF, a German public-service television broadcaster 

Education and communication

An important part of our work is to reach the grassroots in remote villages to raise awareness and to share knowledge. We inform about the serious situation of the lion in Ngorongoro and in the rest of the world, our ongoing research activities and conservation efforts with local involvement and how our Ilchokuti and Lion Scouts can help protect the valuable livestock. This gives us an opportunity to hear of the current situation in the area, problems with lions and other predators, and to discuss possible solutions directly with the herders and livestock owners.

Sometimes we present our data in open air screenings, sometimes inside school buildings and other times directly from our laptops in the field or on the hood of the car. A great entertainment, and education tool, is when we show them photos from the camera traps – of all the nocturnal and shy animals that lives in their “back yards”.

KopeLion maasai fieldwork Ngorongoro Conservation Area

Ingela showing the latest camera trap photos for curious residents of Longojoo, Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

After a recent lion killing event we gathered people in the Oldonyo Gol area to discuss better ways forward. Under the stars we rigged up projector, screen and generator and showed this far-away community our projects activities and the benefit of conservation.

KopeLion’s research topics and techniques

✓ Lion Demography Monitoring. We maintain a long-term monitoring of lions in the Ngorongoro Crater and the Ndutu region, where direct and regular observations of lions are possible. In these two study populations every member is individually recognized and observed throughout its lifespan. Added to our own observations from frequent lion-search visits are the photos with information that we receive from others (tourists, rangers, tour operators). Lions are identified by natural markings (each lions’ whisker-spot pattern is unique). For every observation we identify each lion and record data on time, location, group constellation, reproductive activities (e.g. mating, lactating), and other observable feeding and health conditions.

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  • In the Ngorongoro Crater lion monitoring expands and builds upon a unique, long-term dataset by the Serengeti Lion Project, including family histories and lion population genetics reaching back to 1962.
  • In the Ndutu region we maintain regular monitoring of the lion demography since 2007. This is the second area within Ngorongoro where lions still exist in in high numbers and are easily found and observed. Photos and information from keen visitors and tourism-operators have added a wealth of data to our understanding of this population.


KopeLion lion whiskerspots

We identify lions by their unique whisker-spot pattern. Top row shows whisker spots of LA88 at different ages, bottom row shows MG106.

✓ Lion Genetics. We collect lion DNA samples opportunistically, e.g. scat, hair, and tissue, and through focused efforts using biopsy darting. We also have access to historic samples from the area for comparisons. In collaboration with the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences we will apply advanced genetic techniques to construct individually‐based models built on data from SNP genotyping.

[read more=”READ MORE” less=”READ LESS”]Our genetic survey will add to our understanding of Ngorongoro’s lion population dynamics, by revealing lions’ use of the landscape, population structure, mating strategies and dispersal patterns. In particular we want to study the impact of human‐wildlife landscape use on gene flow and long‐term genetic structure of the lion population. Through continued genetic surveillance we may also measure the impact of our conservation efforts on dispersing lions by the flow of new genes to formerly isolated sub-populations.[/read]

We collect lion scat for our genetic survey.

✓ Lion Movement. We have permission to deploy GPS-collars (satellite collars) on a few lions in Ngorongoro’s multi-use area – a place where lions are too elusive or the terrain too tricky to study these lions from direct observation. We set our collars to take hourly positions, allowing us to observe precise and fine-scale movements and activity patterns of lions in a landscape with much human and livestock activities. By visiting sites where the lion stayed for a longer time (clusters) we document signs of their activity and prey choice.

GPS-collars in NCA: this photo shows the positions from 7 lions that were GPS collared for 3-25 months each, between 2013-2015.

✓ Lion Occupancy – Camera trapping. In collaboration with Panthera we have set up a grid of motion-triggered camera traps to study lion occupancy in the multi-use area. Cameras are placed at locations based on local knowledge, lions’ habitat selection maps and the scientific protocol.

[read more=”READ MORE” less=”READ LESS”]Camera traps are a great way, sometimes the only, to get a glimpse of the shy lions in this multi-use area, and to explore lions’ and other elusive wildlife’s use of the area. Though being an area with a lot of people activity we are challenged by a high rate of theft and vandalism to the camera traps. We are exploring how this can be improved by further engaging community members to keep guard, and get certain ownership of the cameras. We are also gaining increasing support for these camera traps by the many presentations we give, where the camera trap photos provide a great entertainment and education tool about the nocturnal and shy animals that the audience live among.[/read]

Camera trap photos from Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

Camera trap equipment.

KopeLion study area Ngorongoro Conservation Area

Our study areas:
1. Ngorongoro Crater
2. Ndutu area
3. Multi-use areas

✓ Lion Presence – lion spoors. With our many local staff and community relations we manage to survey the multi-use area well for any indirect observations of lions: foot prints, scat, hair, lions growling in the night. All confirmed signs are recorded with date and GPS location.

We note gps-positions of all lion tracks.

✓ Predator – Livestock Interaction and Impact. To understand the pattern of predator-livestock interaction, we gather reports on depredation events, with a special focus on lions. The Lion Scouts lead this work, and receive reports of attacks through their community networks. They visit each attack site for verification and to record date, location, livestock and predator involved, and other context details. Through these surveys we get a measure of the predators impact on the livelihoods of the Ngorongoro pastoralists. We also learn when, where and why livestock are most vulnerable to attack. This helps to guide our recommendations for appropriate husbandry practices or other strategies to mitigate conflicts before they happen.

Document showing 2016 depredation events in Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

Employing locally promotes lion conservation in many ways

  • Offering jobs based on the lion converts this “beast” to a resource.
  • A job is a highly valued opportunity in a place where few employments exist.
  • The job builds skills, provides status and valuable income.
  • The job inspires a sense of ownership and engagement for lion conservation.
  • Through our local employees we build a positive connection and relationship with their communities, who gain better insight and understanding of our work.
  • Through our local employees we gain continuous access to local ecological knowledge that, integrated with science and modern technologies, maximize our understanding and ultimately the protection of lions.

Duties of Ilchokuti and Lion Scouts

Lion monitoring. Record signs or observations of lions, assist in camera trap operations, telemetry tracking of lions.

Conflict mitigation. Find and retrieve lost livestock, help reinforce bomas (livestock enclosures), warn herders of lion presence, support herders in dangerous areas.

Community outreach & support. Act as ambassadors for lions and conservation in general, find lost herders, provide wound treatment for livestock that got injured by predators, participate in relevant community meetings.

Prevent lion killings. Stay informed of any threats to lions from their peer groups, so as to directly prevent or interfere as hunts are planned or about to happen.

Depredation survey. Visit and record the where, when, why and how from all events of predator-livestock attacks.

Roles of Ilchokuti vs Lion Scout

Our Lion Scouts and Ilchokutis do similar, or complimentary duties. With the Lion Scouts we gained a first understanding of the impact large carnivores had on people and their livestock, and the level of threats towards lions. Based on those findings, the roles of the Lion Scouts evolved towards more lion monitoring and conflict mitigation duties. With time we achieved the foundation to implement the Lion Guardians model, being a threatened lion population, and the communities trust and collaboration. In Ngorongoro we have named our Lion Guardians trained warriors “Ilchokuti”, meaning a guardian, a caretaker – someone that never leaves his flock, in the Maasai language. The Lion Scouts follow a more flexible protocol based on current needs, which continues to be important as we explore new areas to engage in, and/or where there are immediate threats towards lions.