Populations of the African lion Panthera leo are declining dramatically, with the species’ survival in some areas closely linked to levels of tolerance by rural communities. In Tanzania and Kenya several of the remaining lion populations outside protected areas reside adjacent to rural communities, where they are hunted. As many of these communities are Maasai, research and conservation efforts have focused on understanding and curbing Maasai lion hunting practices. Much of this work has been informed by a dichotomous explanatory model of Maasai lion hunting as either a ‘cultural’ ritual or a ‘retaliatory’ behaviour against predation on livestock. We present qualitative data from interviews (n = 246) in both countries to illustrate that lion hunting by Maasai is related to overlapping motivations that are simultaneously social, emotional and political (in response to conservation initiatives). Additional case study material from Tanzania highlights how politics associated with conservation activities and age-set dynamics affect lion hunting in complex and overlapping ways. Our findings contribute an ethnographic perspective on Maasai lion hunting, people–predator relations, and how these relations are linked to conservation politics.
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