Lion Killings Spur Fears of Regional Extinction in Kenya

May 22, 2006

Lions may soon be obliterated from southern Kenya, unless immediate steps are taken to rein in their slaughter, wildlife experts warn.

"Ten years ago there used to be lions everywhere. You'd hear lions at night, find their tracks during the day. That simply is not true anymore," said Laurence Frank, a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, and an expert on African predators.

(See and download a lion wallpaper photo.)

While the size of southern Kenya's lion population is difficult to measure, Frank says the giant felines no longer roam where they once did and the current rate of killing is unsustainable.

"Within two years the lions will essentially be gone," he said.

Last month alone, nine lions were found speared to death in and around Kenya's Amboseli National Park, just north of Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro (see map of Kenya).

One of the dead lions was the mother of two cubs, which will almost certainly die without her—essentialy bringing the month's total lion kills to at least 11, Frank said.

Lions Killed in Manhood Rite

The nomadic, cattle-herding Maasai people have long inhabited southern Kenya.

Young Maasai warriors kill the lions "to prove themselves as men," said Leela Hazzah, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Hazzah is in Kenya studying the driving forces behind the recent increase in southern Kenyan lion killings.

Hazzah's research is part of the Kilimanjaro Lion Conservation Project, which Berkeley's Frank directs.

The project is modeled after a similar, successful program in northern Kenya's Laikipia region. The aim is to enlist the local community of about 10,000 Maasai herders in lion conservation.

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