Samburu-born Jeneria Lekilelei has been shortlisted for the Tusk Award for Conservation in Africa in recognition of his work for NGO Ewaso lions.
The Tusk Awards for Conservation in Africa are organised by conservation charity Tusk Trust in association with Investec Asset Management and are celebrated annually with several award categories. The category in which Lekilelei has been nominated is sponsored by Land Rover and highlights pioneering individuals who are emerging as leading conservationists.
Magnificent in both abundance and variety, African wildlife has been preserved and revered for millennia. Now more than ever, these animals depend on local people to survive.
Speaking about the awards, Prince William, Tusk’s royal patron, said: “As so much of the natural world continues to face the alarming and real threat of extinction it is vital we recognise how much we owe to conservation’s unsung heroes whom the Tusk Awards shine a spotlight on.”
“Living alongside Africa’s precious wildlife means they each face huge challenges, but their bravery and determination to preserve all life on the planet gives me hope for the future.”
Growing up as a livestock herder in northern Kenya, Lekilelei admits lions were always seen as “the enemy”.
But after joining Ewaso Lions, he learned to appreciate the value of a species rapidly disappearing around him. Most importantly, he realised that people, often treated as a threat to wildlife, would hold the key to the survival of the lions in their landscape.
“I really want everyone to take ownership of lions and wildlife. It’s not just about me and my team, it’s about the whole community. We all need to save lions for our children.” he said.
“Without a balanced landscape, one that includes lions and other wildlife, we could also lose the plants and water that we also depend on for living,” he said.
“I now realise how important it is that I am a shepherd of all animals in Samburu and without the wild animals, our domestic animals and our way of life is also threatened.”
In his role as Director of Community Conservation, Lekilelei works with local people to diffuse conflict. He is mentoring a new generation of conservationists, and bringing back an old idea: that people can coexist and live peacefully with wildlife. He leads the Warrior Watch programme, transforming young men who once killed lions into ambassadors for the species.
Speaking about his nomination he said: “In an area as remote as this, it is easy to think that we have been forgotten. We find our strength and reward from being with the lions who we now love as we love our cows. But sometimes, especially in times of drought, things get very difficult. Winning this award would remind us that we are not alone.”
Lekilelei has been nominated alongside Ugandan Dr Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka and Sengalese Tomas Diagne. The winner will be announced in November 2019 at a ceremony in London, where they will be presented with a £20,000 grant to further their good work.