Man-Eating Lions Risk Extinction As Farmers Take Arms

January 11, 2005

The lions of the greater Tsavo region in southeastern Kenya have a long history of conflict with humans. Most famously, two lions killed and ate more than 130 railroad workers during a nine-month rampage in 1898.

Today humans do most of the killing, persecuting the carnivores in retaliation for their raids on livestock. Roland Kays, the curator of mammals at the New York State Museum in Albany, says that if the trend continues and escalates, these African lions may face extinction.

"Right now the ranches we work with are not persecuting lions at dangerous levels, as they are in some other regions," he said.

Currently the Tsavo lions are afforded protection within the confines of the Tsavo National Parks, which encompass about 7,700 square miles (20,000 square kilometers) in southeastern Kenya.

Kays said he does not believe park protection alone guarantees the lions' long-term conservation. He noted that the carnivores require vast territories and that some lion prides exist entirely outside park boundaries.

"The presence of the parks makes this region a relative stronghold for lions in the region, and so it is important to make it as strong as possible," Kays said. "This means protecting those that wander across park boundaries."

Beware the Rains

In his quest to protect the carnivores from further persecution, Kays is joined by Bruce Patterson at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois; Samuel Kasiki at the Tsavo Research Center in Kenya; and Edwin Selempo at the Taita Discovery Center in Kenya.

Last year the team reported the results of a long-term study of the ecology and environmental preferences of the lions in the greater Tsavo region. The results were published in the journal Biological Conservation.

The researchers found that when rain begins to pound the arid savannah, lions are more likely to make an easy meal out of cattle.

During the dry season the majority of the region's water holes wither. This forces parched buffalo, waterbucks, and other lion prey to gather at one of the few remaining sources of water. Lions also hang out at these water holes, waiting for their prey to come to them, Kays noted.

When the rains begin, however, water holes throughout the region fill up, allowing wildlife to spread out. Lions must work harder to get a meal, making livestock a more viable option.

Continued on Next Page >>


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