Saturday, October 17, 2009

Kenya: Kings of the Jungle fight for survival

Kibiwott Koross
14 October 2009
Daily Nation on the Web

Nairobi — They may be kings of the jungle but now, conservationists say, lions in some of Kenya's most scenic parks are reduced to fighting for their lives. Africa's wild lion population is in trouble. And their population could disappear in the next 20 years because of climate change, habitat destruction, disease and conflict with humans.

Scientists do not know how many there were a few decades ago, but today's estimate of fewer than 23,000 on the entire continent is much less than previously thought. Lions and other large predators like hyenas and leopards are killed by livestock owners for preying on their cows, sheep, and goats and one by one, the predators are disappearing.

According to the Kenya Wildlife Service, an estimated 100 lions die each year which could see the priced animal out of sight in the next 20 years given that the current population of the primates in the Kenyan parks stands at not more than 2000.

Lions are one of the so-called Big Five along with elephants, buffaloes, leopards and rhinos that are the major tourist attraction in Kenya's game parks. Parks are a major foreign exchange earner to the country. According to an international British journal Mother Nature, the lion together with the Elephant, Black Rhino, Cheetah and the Tiger are the most endangered animals and are on the verge of extinction.

"The situation is bad. We are losing about 100 lions each year and from our statistics, we have realised that in the last seven years; the population of the lions has dropped from 2,700 in 2002, to some 2,000," says the director in a statement.

And to try and save the lions, KWS said it has introduced tracking devices fitted on the lions to monitor their movement and better understand the human-lion conflict. This is a pilot process in the southern Amboseli ecosystem where according to KWS, some 35 lions are found.

The Amboseli Lion Project is a joint effort between KWS and the Leiden University, Netherlands under a Memorandum of Understanding between the two institutions. The five collared lions in the project include three females and two males.

In the Maasai Mara main home of the lions there are 825 lions. Pastoralists and farmers have been accused of lacing chemicals on carcass of animals killed by the lions to kill them. Tsavo has 675 lions while others like Laikipia has 230, Isiolo/Samburu has 100, Northern Kenya has 100, 40 in Meru and Nairobi 25.

According to conservationists, a pesticide marketed under the trade name furadan by Philadelphia-based Farm Machinery and Chemicals (FMC) is responsible for the deaths of dozens of lions, hundreds of vultures and other animals in Kenya's wildlife sanctuaries.

In early September, one lion, a number of hyenas and 35 vultures are reported to have died at Olololaimutiak gate in the Maasai Mara Reserve from retaliatory poisoning from a cow carcass that had been laced with poison suspected to be furadan. The cow had been killed inside the reserve where it was grazing illegally.

This poisoning was confirmed by the Kenya Wildlife Service, which added that a suspect has been arrested and is assisting with investigations. According to the KWS senior scientist, Dr Dominic Mijele, the carcass had a pinkish colouration on the bones indicating a heavy dose of the substance was used.

Over the past six years, 62 lions have been killed by poison. In 2004, 187 vultures died after feasting on a carcass that had been laced with furadan on the Athi-Kapiti plains adjoining the Nairobi National Park.

And a month after a pro buy-back programme of the deadly agricultural pesticide -- carbofuran -- introduced by a US manufacturer kicked off some two months ago, some agrovet stores are still hiding old stock and selling it under the counter. The pesticide is still reported to be causing wildlife deaths in various locations in Kenya.

Younger generation

"The younger generation will be reading about the lions like we do of dinosaur in a few years time," says Nairobi National Park Chief Warden Mrs Elizabeth Leitoro. And according to Wildlife and Forestry minister Dr Noah Wekesa, Kenya without wild lions would be a tragedy.

"In order to make room for animals the lions, we must also make sure there is space for them in our hearts and that is exactly what Pride of Kenya encourages us to do," says Dr Wekesa. Dr Julius Kipng'etich, Director of KWS says Kenya would lose her major foreign exchange earner should the lions disappear.

The director says KWS has made concerted efforts to spearhead the conservation of the endangered animals with other partners.

Through a project, dubbed "Pride of Kenya", coordinated by the Born Free Foundation in consultation with Wild Art, will roll out 50 life-size lion sculptures and information on the king of the jungle. The campaign will be used to raise public awareness about the uncertain future of the lions and to engage people in efforts to help raise funds for the conservation of the lion, Nation Media Group among other sponsor who include Kenya Data Networks (KDN) Born Free have helped bring up the 50 'lions' to the City which have been on display.

Conservation messages

Nation Media Group will pass conservation messages through advertisements, competitions on radio and pupils' painting competitions through the weekly children's magazine, Young Nation.

KDN which is a leading network operator in East Africa is supporting Pride of Kenya by developing and hosting the website (www.prideofkenya.co.ke) and has sponsored two lions.

"We took the initiative not only to sensitise the community about the plight of the lions but also to draw attention to conservation at large" says KDN chief marketing officer Mr Vincent Wangombe.

Through the initiative, free public art displays in form of lion sculptures will be placed strategically outside city buildings to create awareness on conservation of the big cat in Kenya. They will later be brought together for one last time as part of a gala auction to be held at the Headquarters of the Kenya Virginia McKenna OBE.

http://allafrica.com/stories/200910141001.html

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Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://www.bigcatrescue.org

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