Research Article: From Attitudes to Actions: Predictors of Lion Killing by Maasai Warriors

Date Published: January 30, 2017

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Leela Hazzah, Alistair Bath, Stephanie Dolrenry, Amy Dickman, Laurence Frank, John Goodrich.


Despite legal protection, deliberate killing by local people is one of the major threats to the conservation of lions and other large carnivores in Africa. Addressing this problem poses particular challenges, mainly because it is difficult to uncover illicit behavior. This article examined two groups of Maasai warriors: individuals who have killed African lions (Panthera leo) and those who have not. We conducted interviews to explore the relationship between attitudes, intentions and known lion killing behavior. Factor analysis and logistic regression revealed that lion killing was mainly determined by: (a) general attitudes toward lions, (b) engagement in traditional customs, (c) lion killing intentions to defend property, and (d) socio-cultural killing intentions. Our results indicated that general attitudes toward lions were the strongest predictor of lion killing behavior. Influencing attitudes to encourage pro-conservation behavior may help reduce killing.

Partial Text

The conservation of large carnivores poses substantial challenges [1, 2] due to these species’ wide-ranging nature and high potential for livestock depredation [3, 4]. Killing by humans has eliminated many carnivore species from extensive portions of their former range, including puma (Puma concolor), tiger (Panthera tigris) and African lion (Panthera leo) [3, 5, 6]. As human and livestock populations have rapidly expanded, large carnivore habitat and prey have declined and human-carnivore conflict over depredation has increased [6, 7]. Carnivore killing may be motivated by the degree of damage (e.g., livestock depredation) incurred [8, 9], but social and cultural beliefs are often equally important drivers and need to be addressed in order to reduce killing [10, 11].

Humans have caused recent extirpations of many carnivore populations worldwide [5, 67], yet research devoted to carnivore conservation has tended to focus more on managing carnivore populations [68–70] than on influencing human behavior. However, there is an increasing recognition that solutions focused on carnivore biology alone limit conservationists’ ability to reduce human-induced killing, implying a need to focus management solutions on humans as well [71, 72].

By expanding our understanding and influences on human behavior, we can improve conservation of threatened wildlife populations [72]. Our results suggested that attitudinal research that informs practice can enhance our ability to affect behavior toward wildlife, particularly if attitudes are monitored over time. Cultural and environmental variables specific to each local situation may drive and predict human behavior, underscoring the need for local data rather than dependence on literature based on studies elsewhere. In addition, many of the social-psychology tools have been developed in North America [31, 88, 89] and, because they focus on recreational sport hunting, may not be easily applied or contextualized in a rural African subsistence setting.