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Maasai spear lions

22 June 2012, 08:05

 Ilkeek-Lemedung'i - Crouching in the savannah's tall grass, the lions tore through the flesh of eight goats in the early morning invasion. Dogs barked, women screamed and the men with the rank of warrior in this village of Maasai tribesman gathered their spears.

Kenya Wildlife Service rangers responded to the attack, but without a vet, and no way to tranquilize the eight attacking lions and remove them from Ilkeek-Lemedung'I, a collection of mud, stone and iron-sheeting homes 40km outside Nairobi, not far from the edges of Nairobi National Park.

In the end, the Maasai men - who come from a tribe renowned for hunting skills - grew tired of waiting for the vet, said Charity Kingangir, whose father's goats were attacked. The men speared the lions, killing six: two adult lionesses, two younger lions and two cubs.

The lions had killed eight goats, each worth about $60.

The deaths on Wednesday of the six lions came one week after residents from another village on Nairobi's outskirts killed a leopard that had eaten a goat. Last month KWS agents shot and killed a lion moving around the Nairobi suburb of Karen.

And KWS said three lions attacked and killed three goats outside Nairobi National Park early on Thursday. Rangers chased the lions back to the park.

Four days before the Maasai killed the six lions, KWS sent out a public notice pleading with people who encounter wild animals "to desist from killing them." Such animals are dangerous, it said.

KWS summed up the problem in a posting on its Facebook page on Thursday: "Do animals invade human space, or do humans invade animal space? How can we find tolerance for our wild neighbors? And how can we humanely remove them when they get a bit too close?"

As Kenya's capital enjoys a boom in apartment and road construction, an expanding population center is putting heavy pressure on Kenya's famed wildlife, especially its big cats. Nairobi National Park is the only wildlife park in the world that lies in a country's capital city.

100 lions a year

Humans have killed about 100 lions a year over each of the last seven years, leaving the country with 2 000. Killing lions in Kenya is a crime, but Kenyans who lose livestock to big cats frequently retaliate.

Lions, especially ones who leave Nairobi National Park, which is not completely fenced in, are at risk. After the killing of the six, KWS believes the park has 37 left.

As Nairobi continues to grow, small towns on its outskirts are cropping up and expanding, in part fuelled by the demand for low-cost housing from the city's working class.

Humans are settling in traditional migratory corridors that wildlife from Nairobi's park have long used to access the plains to the south around Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro, or to travel to Kenya's Maasai Mara in the country's southwest, said Peter M Ngau, a professor in the department of urban and regional planning at the University of Nairobi.

The herbivores migrate from the park in search of pasture during the dry season and the carnivores follow, KWS official Ann Kahihia said.

"Unfortunately the carnivores do not know the difference between livestock and wild animals. Once they get livestock they just kill them," Kahihia said.

KWS Director Julius Kipngetich has said the human population in the Kitengela area, where the six lions were killed, was low in the 1990s but following the establishment of an export processing zone, where raw imported goods are made into products, the number of people living there grew dramatically.

The second biggest migration of animals in Kenya - the biggest being the migration between Serengeti National Park in neighboring Tanzania and Maasai Mara - was that of the wildebeests from Nairobi National Park to the Athi plains to Nairobi's east. But that migration has been squeezed because of human settlement, he said.

If parliament approves, the Kenyan government will start compensating those whose animals are maimed or killed by wildlife as an incentive to spare the attacking animals.

KWS spokesperson Paul Udoto said the government stopped compensation for wildlife attacks in 1987 after the programme was abused.

Kipngetich said other ways of avoiding human-wildlife conflict is to fence parks and compensate at market rates people whose land may be used for conservation purposes.

Jackson Sikeet, who was present during Wednesday's killing of the lions, said the government should compensate the Maasai for the loss of the goats.

"Otherwise if they don't, this problem is going to continue every other time," Sikeet said.

- AP


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