Man-Eating Lions Risk Extinction As Farmers Take Arms

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Noting that the behavior of the Tsavo lions contrasts with that of lions in central and western Kenya, Kays cautioned that the results from one study cannot be blindly applied to another region.

"Lions don't care if it's raining or not raining. They care about what native prey is available," Kays said. "The trick is, if they don't have anything to eat, [they] then go after the non-native prey [livestock]."

Lion Conservation

By understanding the regional environmental and ecological conditions that affect the abundance of native prey, conservationists and ranchers may be able to resolve the conflict between lions and cattle.

Kays noted, for example, that ranchers should become more vigilant when seasonal rains fall on the Tsavo region, knowing that the rains signal increased lion predation on livestock.

"Think about the terror warnings in the U.S. alert system: It tells us when to be more vigilant and when to let our guard down a bit. This is analogous in a way," Kays said.

"[The ranchers] can pay more attention, light a couple more fires, stay up a little later when it's the rainy season, and let their guard down, relax a bit more, in the dry season," he added.

Without resolution to the lion-cattle conflict, there is some concern among conservationists that landowners will abandon livestock in favor of more profitable—and land-intensive—property uses, such as growing sisal, a fiber used for making rope and rugs.

"People or corporations who own land are obligated to make some money off it," Kays said. "There aren't a whole lot of opportunities for this [in Tsavo]."

While livestock are prone to conflict with wild carnivores, such as lions and cheetahs, conservationists say ranching is preferable to alternative intensive land uses, such as sisal cultivation or tree-felling charcoal production.

Conservationists see wildlife-based tourism as the least invasive land use. "There are not many places in the world with more potential for ecotourism than this part of the world," Kays said.

Bruce Patterson—a colleague of Kays and leader of Tsavo lion research at the Chicago Field Museum—estimated that ecotourism can annually generate about twice as much income as ranching.

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