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More bad news for Kenya's lions

Thursday 2nd June 2011

More bad news for Kenya's lions

 A lion struggles with the effects of a neurotoxic poison – he will soon die


An article posted on May 27th 2010 by Paula Kahumbu entitled "Is there enough wildlife left for the lions to eat?"


Paula alerted us then to more bad news for Kenya’s lions – 20 more lions were killed in the Amboseli area, leaving perhaps 25 or less remaining in the National Park. Paula knows Amboseli well – I first met her there when she was a research assistant to an elephant programme run by Cynthia Moss and Joyce Poole. The park was known worldwide in those days for spectacular wildlife and scenery – Mt Kilimanjaro forms a magnificent backdrop to the open plains. The Park is small, less than 400 square kilometres. When I was there is the late 1980’s the swamps and seasonal lakes in the area were extensive, fed by rainfall and springs from Mt Kilimanjaro. However, things have changed dramatically in the past twenty years. Kilimanjaro’s glaciers have retreated to tiny remnants, and the once magnificent snow-capped peak near the equator (that supposedly caused the Kenya-Tanzania border to be redrawn so the German Kaiser could have “his” mountain as his cousin Queen Victoria already had Mt. Kenya) is now lucky to receive an occasional dusting of snow on the peak. Global warming has been blamed, but also the tremendous deforestation of the slopes.


So now the springs hardly flow, and Amboseli (supposedly meaning “a place of water” in Maa – the language of the Maasai tribe living all around) is getting drier and drier. Rains entirely failed in 2008 and 2009, and the wildlife greatly suffered. Wildebeest declined from 18,500 in 2007 to 3,100 in 2010, and zebras declined from 15,300 to 4,400 in the same period. The Kenya Wildlife Service was meant to source populations of those species from other areas in Kenya and introduce them to the Park after the drought, but Paula was critical of the results – while some animals were eventually transported, the operation did not meet the originally intended scope. 


But back to the lions. During the drought, it was thought so few wild prey were available in the Park that the lions took to eating Maasai livestock, hence the killings. Some were direct – using spears – and some were indirect, using poison.


This poison is an insecticide called Furadan (carbofuran). It is cheap, highly effective (lions don’t taste the poison in the meat, and there even secondary effects – scavengers that eat the poisoned lion also die), and manufactured in the USA. There, the Environmental Protection Agency banned the product as being dangerous to users, consumers, and wildlife. The product is also banned in Canada and the EU. The manufacturing company continued to sell to the third world, and Paula now has managed to get imports banned from Kenya, and the company has instituted a buy-back program. However, supplies are still plentiful.


We should all salute Paula Kahumbu and Wildlife Direct. She will tackle any government agency in Kenya to get things done, is completely honest and forthright in reporting, and we always get best news from her first. A lion research project in the Amboseli area has been silent on the issue. Read her blogs on


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Posted by Pieter Kat at 18:07

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