Lions going extinct? Or Maasai?

Lions going extinct? Or Maasai?

Maasai cow laced with poison kills entire lion pride.
Richard Leakey’s excellent wildlife consortium, Wildlife Direct, said today that “Kenya’s lions are on the brink of extinction.” Exaggeration or real warning?

Probably both.

The organization’s warning followed an incident in late April where three lions were poisoned in Lemek, a private wildlife conservancy north of Kenya’s famed Maasai Mara game reserve.

Wildlife officials arrested the alleged killer, a Maasai herder, who admitted the poisoning and showed wildlife officials the powder he used. He explained that the lion had been killing his cattle.

Lion have been killing Maasai stock for aeons. And in the old days Maasai morani would spear the lion to death and that usually did the trick. Today, pesticides have replaced spears. In this case, pending chemical analysis, wildlife officials believe the poison was carbofuran – widely available in Kenya because it’s used in the cut-flower industry.

Unlike spearing the marauding lion, pesticides laid out for the intruder end up killing the whole pride, and that’s what seems to have happened in this case. In the old days, the speared (usually) male lion traumatized the pride enough that they left the area. Now, there are no lions left to leave.

Killing wildlife in Lemek is a violation of two laws: a federal law against killing lions (that allowed federal officials, the KWS, to become involved) and a business contract with tourist camps in the area.

So the alleged culprit was arrested and arraigned, but later released. Not on bail, but because “a local politician intervened on his behalf,” according to Wildlife Direct.

Don’t get too angry.

Wildlife/human conflicts are on the rise throughout Africa and I don’t believe they are being properly handled. In Kenya a number of initiatives are underway, including KWS programs to educate herders and farmers on the importance of wildlife; in Tanzania more aggressive actions are being funded by organizations like AWF to actually fence portions of farms against intruders as large as elephant.

But as human populations develop and their needs become greater, and particularly during an economic downturn and following a drought, these initiatives can actually exacerbate not solve the problem.

Lemek is an excellent example. This is too far away from the real wilderness of the Maasai Mara, an extension of a “private reserve” because of presumed tourist interests. Many of Africa’s best camps are in private reserves, but I think these private reserves have become too far out.

This is really an area that should be left to stock grazing, and what the Kenyan government and wildlife officials should realize is that trying to expand it for tourism is a bad idea. It should be developed for agriculture.

Lions should not be protected in this area. They should be confined to areas further towards and actually inside the reserve, and if motivated to move out into these areas, they should be picked up or shot by wildlife officials before such messy and uncontrollable acts of poisoning grow widespread.

Protecting them in areas like these just increases the problem.