Conservation Hero: Shivani Bhalla

Image credit: Courtesy of Jacques van der Westhuizen

Conservation Hero: Shivani Bhalla

Sir David Attenborough presents the 2023 Whitley Gold Award winner Shivani Bhalla.

At just eight years old, Shivani Bhalla embarked on a life-changing journey that would shape her destiny and ignite her unwavering passion for lions. Accompanied by her parents, she visited North Kenya, her ancestral land, and there, in the vastness of the African wilderness, she discovered a deep connection with these majestic creatures.

This profound desire to safeguard the future of African lions led her to establish the organization Ewaso Lions. Dedicated to conserving lions and other large carnivores, Ewaso Lions promotes the coexistence between people and wildlife.

The plight of the African lion

The African lion (Panthera Leo), once a symbol of untamed wilderness, is facing a perilous threat. Over the past two decades, their population has plummeted at an alarming rate. Human development and encroachment on their habitats have ravaged the expansive landscapes where these magnificent creatures once roamed freely.

Today, their range has been fragmented and reduced, leaving them trapped and struggling to migrate.

A delicate balance: lions and livelihoods

Desertification exacerbates this crisis. As the grasslands wither under the scorching sun, the prey that sustains the lions' existence dwindles, setting off a chain reaction. Hungry and desperate, the lions turn to the livestock of local farmers, the nomadic Samburu of North Kenya, who rely on their cattle as a measure of social status and wealth.

This conflict between farmers and lions perpetuates a cycle of resentment and violence. Lives are lost on both sides, leaving an indelible mark on the communities.

Empowering communities for coexistence

In the face of these challenges, Ewaso Lions emerges, advocating for the harmonious coexistence of humans and wildlife. Dr. Bhalla and her team have pioneered transformative programs that engage the Samburu tribe, forging an unbreakable bond between the people and the lions they share their land.

Warriors on the frontline

Ewaso Lions recognized the untapped potential within the Samburu community, particularly the young warriors aged 15 to 30. Historically excluded from conservation efforts, these brave warriors now stand at the forefront of change.

Through the Warrior Watch initiative, they serve as guardians, swiftly responding to human-lion conflicts. Patrolling on foot, they liaise with farmers, safeguarding their livestock while ensuring the lions are protected.

Women rising for conservation

Samburu women have also joined the effort, uniting under the banner of Mama Simba, or "Mother of Lions." This trailblazing program empowers women with a voice in lion conservation.

Equipped with knowledge and skills, these women also patrol the land, improving their livelihoods and fostering peaceful coexistence between communities and wildlife.

Nurturing the next generation

Recognizing the power of education and experience, Dr. Bhalla initiated the Lion Kids camp. This transformative program intertwines conservation education with real-life safari encounters, offering children the same enchanting experiences that kindled her love for lions.

Since its inception in 2013, numerous children have transitioned into warriors, dedicating their lives to the cause of lion conservation.

The guardian of lions

Dr. Shivani Bhalla firmly believes that the future of lions depends on the harmony between humans and nature. To achieve successful wildlife conservation, a balanced ecosystem must thrive, encompassing the communities living alongside these awe-inspiring creatures.

Recognizing Dr. Bhalla’s exceptional dedication and achievements, she was honored with The Whitley Award in both 2014 and 2023. This prestigious accolade celebrates her unwavering commitment to lion conservation and recognizes her as a local environmental hero, acting upon the latest scientific insights with remarkable passion.

Kings of the climate

Preserving lion populations safeguards biodiversity and the intricate web of all life on Earth. Lions balance grazer populations which help vegetation grown, sequestering more carbon from our atmosphere.

Through Dr. Bhalla’s tireless endeavors, the Ewaso Lions emerge not only as a guardian of African lions but also as a powerful climate solution. By empowering local communities and fostering coexistence, she and her team are fortifying the harmony between humans, nature, and the climate.

Learn More About the Ewaso Lions Project
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