Lion Cubs Kidnapped; Parents Kill People in Revenge?

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The Kenya Wildlife Service is investigating the cub-kidnapping story and reports of killer lions, Kabukuru says. The agency believes the cubs were in fact kidnapped and is following leads to find the young lions and their abductors, he says.

"There seems to be a small market in Kismaayo [Somalia], where two of the cubs were taken, and we suspect that some unscrupulous … people working in Somalia paid for the kidnapping of the cubs," he said.

However, Kabukuru adds, the reports of lions wandering into villages searching for the cubs and killing people is more likely a political ploy for media attention and money.

"This behavior is not so common with lions," he said.

"But we are not dismissing [the possibility that] it could happen, and that has been the reason for deploying the rangers to that area," he added.

Laurence Frank is a research associate at the University of California, Berkeley, and an expert on African predators.

The story of revenge-seeking lions "sounds kind of unlikely, but who knows?" Frank said.

"Lions avoid people for the most part," he added.

Good News?

Frank studies lion populations in the Laikipia and Amboseli regions of Kenya. In Laikipia, which is in central Kenya, the lions are doing well, he says, because ranchers protect their livestock—a lion that can't get close to livestock is less likely to be killed by an angry rancher.

But in Amboseli, which is farther south, herders are more likely to keep their cattle out in the open. As a result, conflict between lions and herders has placed the lion populations in jeopardy in southern Kenya.

(Read "Lion Killings Spur Fears of Regional Extinction." [May 6, 2006].)

As for the northeastern border region with Somalia—the source of the cub-kidnapping reports—almost nothing is known about the region's lions, according to Frank.

The little that is known suggests the giant felines are almost gone.

So, while Frank discounted the report of the lions killing villagers in search of their cubs, he was pleased to hear reports of lions in the region.

"The fact that there is more than one [lion] up there is interesting, whatever the circumstances," he said.

A 15-strong pride would be fantastic news, he says. But the number, he adds, was likely an exaggeration.


According to Frank, the reported conflicts in northeastern Kenya are likely the result of nearly starving lions hoping to make a meal out of livestock.

The lions' wild habitat may be depleted of prey, owing to an ongoing drought and wildlife hunting by Somali soldiers, according to BBC News.

Lions have killed 50 goats in the region over the past two weeks, the U.K. news service reports.

The Kenya Wildlife Service's Kabukuru doubts reports of lions lacking prey because of excessive hunting in the region.

First, he says, the local religion and customs discourage eating wild-caught meat, also known as bush meat. (See photos of the bush-meat trade—warning: graphic content.)

"Secondly, bush-meat trade is encouraged by poverty. These people have thousands of cattle, much more than the carrying capacity of the place. I therefore disagree with that notion," Kabukuru said.

Instead, he says, the lions may simply find it easier to catch livestock than wild prey. Since it's now the rainy season, plentiful plant growth is providing many animals with abundant food sources. Well-fed prey is harder for the lions to hunt down.

The lions' food sources may be disappearing for reasons other than bush-meat hunting, counters the University of California's Frank. He cites habitat destruction due to overgrazing along with indiscriminate shooting of the lions' prey for purposes other than eating.

"Northern Kenya—half the entire country—was once rich in wildlife, but overgrazing and [machine guns] have virtually finished it all," he said.

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