Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Kenya: "Reasons why OUR 'lion' numbers are declining"



Coastweek -- There are two main reasons why lion numbers are declining in Kenya, as in other parts of Africa:

 Human-wildlife conflict - spearing by herders and poisoning with Furadan:

Lions are usually not very welcome in areas used for grazing livestock by pastoralists such as Maasai cattle herders.

As a result lions are often speared when they go into these grazing areas and especially after they have killed livestock.

The pesticide Furadan is banned in many countries but is widely available in Kenya and is used by pastoralists to poison carcasses of livestock killed by predators.

The predators return to the carcass and are killed by the poison.

This can get into the food chain as any animal consuming the dead predators are also killed, from jackals to vultures.

It is also poisoning people, see link below:

For more on Furadan click on the link below:

As well as deliberate poisoning, some lions have been lost through accidental poisoning.

One of the leading lodges in the Mara was using Furadan as a pesticide on its vegetable garden.

Last year a hippo died after eating the vegetables sprayed with Furadan.

Then a pride of lions died after eating the hippo.

Then hyenas and vultures died after eating the lions.

And so it went on .

 Loss of habitat - Many wilderness areas which were formerly inhabited by herbivores and predators such as lions have been turned into farmland and are no longer available as wildlife habitat.

In the outer Mara area there has been fragmentation of land with sub-division into small individually owned parcels.

The loss of habitat means that lions are no longer able to move freely around these areas as they did before and there is no longer availability of large numbers of wild herbivores which form their normal prey.

So lion numbers decline.

SOLUTIONS - However there is a way that tourism can combat the decline of lions.

This is by establishing wildlife conservancies on land owned by the local communities adjacent to parks.

If the local landowners can earn a better economic return from their land from wildlife conservation than they can from cultivation or from keeping livestock then they will be ready to set up wildlife conservancies.

They do not need to turn all their land into wildlife preserves but a community with over 150,000 acres, such as the former Maasai group ranches, could set aside 20 per cent as wildlife conservancy and keep 80 per cent for livestock grazing.

I have been involved with the setting up of three community-owned wildlife conservancies over the last 12 years:

'Selenkay' Conservancy in the Amboseli eco-system and 'Olare Orok' and 'Ol Kinyei' conservancies in the Mara.

We have had great success with our three conservancies and have been given very enthusiastic support by the local communities who own the land on which we have established the conservancies.

Since the conservancies were set up, wildlife has increased substantially, in sharp contrast to the surrounding areas.

We have two American researchers based at Selenkay who have collared a female lion and have been tracking her pride.

Two lionesses there have both had cubs.

In our two conservancies in the Mara we have several resident prides of lions and estimates are that over 30 per cent of all the adult lions in the Mara eco-system are now resident in Olare Orok and Ol Kinyei.

Our lion numbers are increasing .

However we have had a singular lack of support from some in the tourism industry who even tried to prevent us setting up the conservancies in the Mara by having a mis-guided total moratorium on all tourism development in the area and which failed to differentiate between low impact eco-camps located in community-owned conservancies and other inappropriate new lodge developments.

We need to have a small eco-camp in each conservancy to generate income to cover the lease payments to the community and the management costs of the conservancy (rangers wages, patrols to guard the wildlife, maintaining game viewing tracks etc).

However our camps are based on a very low-impact and low-density model, with one tent requiring 700 acres and a maximum size of 12 tents per camp.

This is very different from some of the other camps and lodges mushrooming in the Mara.

Most people in the tourism sector both here and overseas do not understand the difference between a camp outside the park in its own wildlife conservancy of thousands of acres set aside as a habitat exclusively for wildlife, and the other camps outside the park which are on a small parcel of land of a few acres and which just go into the park to do game drives with no effort to get involved in conserving the wildlife habitat or generating an income for a large number of the small-scale local landowners.

Recently there have been a number of media reports on a big decline in wildlife in the outer Mara eco-system where there has been habitat loss to human settlements, intensive livestock rearing, fencing and cultivation of wheat, maize etc.

However in contrast to this decline, within our wildlife conservancies at Olare Orok Conservancy and Ol Kinyei Conservancy there has been a BIG INCREASE in all wildlife both because of breeding (every female herbivore has a calf in the conservancies) and because of an influx of animals from adjacent areas where wildlife habitat is disappearing or where animals are being harassed by people.

You might be interested in watching two short TV clips of a couple of minutes each on the links below:

The first is a BBC clip about a recent report by researchers on declines in wildlife numbers in the Mara eco-system but which also highlighted the success of the community wildlife conservancies with which we are involved at Ol Kinyei and Olare Orok within the same Mara eco-system.

All the wildlife footage was shot in our two conservancies.

The second is a clip from local KTN TV which highlights the two conservancies:

There is no doubt that total lion numbers are declining in Kenya.

One answer is to ban the use of Furadan and also to encourage the establishment of more conservancies.


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