The Maasai tribe have roamed Tanzania and Kenya for centuries.
And, given the challenges of living amidst the world’s largest lion population, the rite of passage for Maasai boys to become “warriors” was to kill a lion.
This created a problem because over time, this decimated the lion population in Tanzania.
It is estimated that there are only 30,000 lions in the region, down from 200,000 a generation or two ago.
The Tanzanian government responded by banned this practice, to no avail.
All the rational arguments in the world are not powerful enough to change deeply-held cultural beliefs.
Conservationists, on the other hand, tried a different approach. They enlisted help from the Maasai warriors to protect lions.
Now, instead of an adolescent hunting and killing a lion, the Maasai find and name lions, track them, and use radio telemetry to perform a census. Protecting a lion becomes as much of a rite of passage as killing one was.
The program is called Lion Guardian.
The new symbol of courage for the warriors is saving lions while safeguarding their communities instead of killing them.
This program has made more progress over the past years than other attempts over the past decades.
This anecdote speaks to the power of culture to drive meaningful change, in ourselves and others.
When we transform the “this” in “people like us do things like this,” we transform ourselves, our worlds, and, in time, the world.
PS: The fact that there is trophy hunting of lions and other animals by rich individuals from other continents has also contributed immensely to the decline in the population of of certain types of animals in Africa.