Saitoti Petro (center wearing blue) tracks lions near the village of Loibor Siret, Tanzania. (AP)

Saitoti Petro (center wearing blue) tracks lions near the village of Loibor Siret, Tanzania. (AP)

A young lion climbs down a tree in Tanzania’s Tarangire National Park. (AP)

A young lion climbs down a tree in Tanzania’s Tarangire National Park. (AP)

Saitoti Petro brushes his teeth with a stick before taking his herd to the fields in the village of Narakauwo, Tanzania.

Saitoti Petro brushes his teeth with a stick before taking his herd to the fields in the village of Narakauwo, Tanzania.

Saitoti and his father keep an eye on their grazing cows. (AP)

Saitoti and his father keep an eye on their grazing cows. (AP)

The Sun sets on Tanzania’s Tarangire National Park.

The Sun sets on Tanzania’s Tarangire National Park.

Living with Lions

Posted: January 1, 2020

“If you see a lion, stop and look it straight in the eyes—you must never run.”

Saitoti Petro points to a fresh paw print in the dirt. He walks a few more yards, reading tracks. One smudge in the dust tells him a lot: A large male lion passed here within the past two hours. “Here he’s walking slowly, then you see his claws come out in the tracks. Perhaps he’s running after prey, or from something else.”

Mr. Petro belongs to a people called the Maasai. He lives in Tanzania. Beneath the folds of his thick cloak, he carries a sharpened machete. Only a few years ago, men of Mr. Petro’s age would most likely have been stalking lions to hunt them. They wanted revenge. The big cats had eaten their cattle. But now they have another problem. Lions are running out.

Now Mr. Petro is one of more than 50 lion monitors. He walks daily patrol routes to help shepherds guard their cattle in pasture. Others working with him help people build fences to keep their animals safe. Safe livestock means no revenge lion killings. So in this case, protecting the prey also means protecting the predator.

Mr. Petro stops suddenly. The tracks he’s been following have veered off the road. He thinks the lion moved toward a stream in the gorge. The footprints must be recent. No bits of grass are strewn on top.

Cow bells jingle nearby. “We should go and check if anyone is coming this way,” he tells the other lion monitors with him. “We need to warn them.” He soon finds two young shepherds sitting under an acacia tree, playing with small yellow fruit-like balls in the dirt. Mr. Petro knows their two-dozen cattle are in danger. He and the boys give high whistles. The cows recognize the sound. They turn to graze in a safe direction.

Lions need to be rescued. The big cats have disappeared from 94 percent of the land they once wandered. Will the lion monitors’ work save the species from the “vulnerable” list—or even from extinction?

“It will be shameful if we kill them all,” says Mr. Petro. “It will be a big loss if our future children never see lions.”

The lions are doing what comes naturally to them. And the hunger for revenge comes naturally to fallen humans. Only the grace of God can change us. We’re thankful anytime we see people turn away from vengefulness.

The Bible says our enemy, Satan, prowls around like a lion. He wants to get people to stop living like they’ve been spiritually transformed. He wants people to have a “me-first” nature—just like animals. But the Bible encourages God’s people: Stand firm! Keep loving each other with sincerity. See 1 Peter 5:8-9.