for National Geographic News
Conservationists issued an appeal today to protect lions surrounding Kenya's Amboseli National Park, saying the big cats are declining at an alarming pace and may even be extinct in the region within a few years.
At least one group estimates that fewer than a hundred lions remain in the Amboseli area, down drastically from the 1980s.
The lions are often victims of Maasai tribespeople who kill the big cats out of fear for their cattle. Land subdivisions and a population boom in the region have also harmed the lions' habitat. (Watch video.)
"When I first came here in '85, you would see lion tracks every time you went on a road ," said Richard Bonham, who owns a tourist lodge near Amboseli and runs the Maasailand Preservation Trust conservation group.
"Then we went two years without seeing a lion. We started actively looking for them and we still couldn't find them."
The National Geographic Society—which owns National Geographic News—announced today it will provide a U.S. $150,000 emergency grant to Bonham's preservation trust to fund a program that compensates Maasai for livestock lost to lion attacks.
"The situation has reached a critical level," Terry Garcia, executive vice president of Mission Programs at National Geographic, said in a statement.
"Unless something is done immediately, there will be no more lions in this part of Kenya, which would be a tragedy."
The Amboseli experience has been echoed across Africa, where lions are being killed at an unsustainable rate, experts say.
(Related: "Revenge Killings: African Farmers Massacre Lions" [February 10, 2004].)
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