CNN Hero: Leela Hazzah

Published 12:33 PM ET, Mon November 24, 2014
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Leela Hazzah's nonprofit turns Maasai warriors -- who have a tradition of killing lions -- into lion protectors. Their ultimate goal is to reduce lion killings. PHILIP BRIGGS/CNN
"Sixty years ago, there were probably half a million lions in Africa," Hazzah said. "Today, there are less than 30,000 lions in all of Africa." PHILIP BRIGGS/CNN
Hazzah's organization employs 65 Lion Guardians throughout East Africa. PHILIP BRIGGS/CNN
Hazzah spent a year living among the Maasai to understand their relationship with lions and why they were killing them. "Livestock are the core of their culture. ... It's their main source of livelihood," Hazzah said. "When they lose their cows, they don't have anything left. So they retaliate, and they kill lions." PHILIP BRIGGS/CNN
Hazzah realized that Maasai warriors, the leaders and protectors in their community, would be the best ambassadors for lions. She began teaching them the benefits of protecting lions, with an emphasis on preserving their culture. In turn, the lessons began rippling through the entire tribe. PHILIP BRIGGS/CNN
Many Maasai warriors come to Lion Guardians illiterate, having never attended school. Hazzah and her team teach each one how to read and write. PHILIP BRIGGS/CNN
The guardians also learn about "their" lions. They keep data on the lions' movements and population changes as part of their job. PHILIP BRIGGS/CNN
If a guardian hears about a lion hunt, he intervenes. He helps the individuals understand the importance of keeping lions alive, including that lions draw tourists to the area, which provides jobs. PHILIP BRIGGS/CNN
For Hazzah, watching the transformation of young Maasai warriors has been one of the most rewarding parts of her efforts. PHILIP BRIGGS/CNN
"I know we're making a difference," Hazzah said. "When I first moved here, I never heard lions roaring. But now I hear lions roaring all the time." PHILIP BRIGGS/CNN