At the beginning of the 20th century there were more than a million lions worldwide.  Today there are less than 30,000 in the wild. The remaining lions are increasingly threatened by habitat loss, hunting, and eradication campaigns to protect farms and cattle.  Paul Sisco reports on an economic incentive program that is making a difference.

For generations, Masai tribesman on the spectacular African plains in southeastern Kenya have hunted lions -- to protect their livestock and their livelihoods.

Today they celebrate the lion's life.

Noah is an elder in the Masai community. "We have decided as a community of the Masai to lay down our spears, no more killing of the lion in our community."

He is part of a group of Masai visiting the United States promoting the Predator Compensation Program.

Conservation International's Frank Hawkins explains. "The Masai have been living with wildlife for many generations and it has been a conflicting relationship in many ways. They compete with the savannah animals for food and the lions eat their cattle.  We're trying to find ways in which the wildlife become an asset to them."

And they have with the Predator Compensation Fund established in 2003. After much discussion, a group of Masai ranchers agreed to protect lions or pay a price. In turn, if a lion or other predator kills livestock the Masai owner is paid market value for the dead animals from the fund.

One man said that in the past, when a lion killed cattle, they killed it on the spot. And now, after the start of the program, the Masai see the lion population growing."

With more lions, ecotourism is on the rise, creating jobs, and the growth of the Fund, co-founded by Tom Hill. "What I think our Predator Compensation Fund has clearly demonstrated is that we have not taken the lion away from the culture of the Masai, but today they are celebrating the preservation of the lion, not the killing of the lion."

Since 2003, only four lions have been killed here, compared to nearly 100 on surrounding properties.

One of the Masai?s herdsman says "Now, after the inception of this project, it is raising the living standard of the locals."

Conservation International has joined forces with the Ol Donyo Trust, extended the program to neighboring ranches, and says it can be a model used to protect species throughout Africa.