Kenya's lions at risk

2009-06-05 09:49

Masai Mara - Kenya's 2 000 lions are at grave risk from repeated drought and a poisonous pesticide that wildlife officials on Thursday blamed for at least 76 deaths since 2001.

The problems have contributed to the country's lion population falling by 700 in the last six years, said Charles Musyoki, a senior scientist with the Kenya Wildlife Service. The figures were based on counts carried out every two years.

Officials in the protected 1,510-sq. kilometres (585-sq. miles) of the Masai Mara National Reserve showed an Associated Press reporter on Wednesday the remains of an 8-month-old lion and 36 dead vultures that fed on a tainted cow carcass.

Government scientists are still analysing samples to determine the poison that killed the animals.

Buyback programme

Government scientists say that at least 76 lions have been killed since 2001 after eating prey contaminated by a pesticide marketed as Furadan by Philadelphia-based FMC Corp.

FMC Corp did not immediately return phone and e-mail messages seeking comment on Thursday.

The pesticide is used in Kenya to control insects on crops such as corn, rice and sorghum.

Forestry and Wildlife Minister Noah Wekesa told Parliament on Tuesday that FMC has stopped the importation of Furadan into Kenya.

FMC has said it stopped sales of Furadan to Kenya following a report in May 2008 that the pesticide may have been involved in poisoning lions and has instituted a buyback programme in Kenya to remove any remaining product from the market.

Musyoki said that herdsmen were also killing lions to protect their livestock that share the large semi-arid reserves with the lions.

Lion-human conflict

The official said the herdsmen had to be taught the importance of the animals to the economy. Tourists flock to the country to see Kenya's big five - the lion, buffalo, elephant, leopard and rhino.

"I don't foresee a time when we can eliminate the lion-human conflict but we can minimise it," said Musyoki. "The only bank account a pastoralist has is his animal. If a lion kills two cows out of four... that is like the disappearance of 50% of his account."

The herdsmen complain that the government puts the life of animals before their own livelihoods. Edward Keringot, 32, said he had lost five of his 100 cattle to lions in recent months.

"The lions who are living here kill our cows, leopards kill our sheep and goats. The government should compensate us for the losses of our animals," he said.