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Boy Dies After Eating Lion-Killing Pesticide, Dad Says

Nick Wadhams in Nairobi, Kenya
National Geographic News
November 13, 2009
 
A three-year-old child has died after allegedly eating the highly toxic pesticide carbofuran in Kenya, his father said.

The boy, named Kimutai, died October 26, several hours after intentionally eating the pesticide at his home in the western part of the country.

Conservationists have led a campaign to ban the odorless pesticide, which pastoralists have added to livestock carcasses to kill lions, hyenas, and other wildlife that could harm the domesticated animals.

In response, carbofuran maker FMC Corporation stopped selling the chemical—sold under the trade name Furadan—in Kenya in 2008. The company also launched a buyback program.

But conservationists say the pesticide remains on store shelves in rural parts of the country—and that Furadan's packaging does not make clear how deadly the pesticide can be.

"The labels are very difficult to understand," said Paula Kahumbu, executive director of the Nairobi-based conservation group WildlifeDirect. "For one thing, they're in English, which is often the buyer's second or third language."

(WildlifeDirect receives some funding from the National Geographic Society, which owns National Geographic News.)

Toxic Tragedy

The boy's father, Nahashon Kigai said in an interview that, while he knew Furadan was toxic for pests, he had no idea it was so harmful to humans.

Kigai said he had bought Furadan a few months ago as he prepared to plant vegetables at his small farm. Carbofuran is sold in both a highly regulated liquid form and a more widely available granular form, which farmers sprinkle around their seeds when planting crops.

Kigai had put the Furadan into a small container, which his son later found.

"I am sure he ate it, because he had [the pesticide] in his hand and in his mouth," Kigai said.

Soon after Kimutai apparently ate the Furadan, the boy began to show signs of paralysis and later became unconscious.

Kigai said no toxicology tests had been conducted on the child's body, which was buried weeks ago.

"I don't know what I can do," Kigai said. "I have already buried my son. I am mourning my son."

Investigation

U.S.-based FMC said it was investigating the poisoning case and would work with local nonprofits to learn what happened.

"FMC is deeply concerned about reports received over the weekend of a suspected case of human poisoning in Kenya, possibly involving Furadan," FMC spokesperson Jim Fitzwater said in an email.

"The company is immediately beginning an investigation and has directed its team members in Kenya to gather more facts."

Dereck Joubert, a National Geographic explorer-in-residence who has campaigned against Furadan, is seeking to have the product banned not just from Kenya but the entire continent.

"We need to use whatever networks we've got, whatever political power we've got, to impose on FMC to pull this product out of Africa—that's the bottom line."
 

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