Lions, Elephants Speared Near Kenya Wildlife Park

Nick Wadhams in Nairobi, Kenya
for National Geographic News
March 18, 2008

At least three lions and up to four elephants have been killed on the fringes of Kenya's popular Amboseli National Park in recent weeks, conservationists say, part of an increasingly tense competition between the area's people and wildlife.

The conservation group Lion Guardians says two lions were speared to death on March 9 and another was killed last month. That brings the total to at least ten lions killed in the last eight months and 162 killed near Amboseli since 2001.

And on Monday the conservation group WildlifeDirect, which had highlighted the lion killings, announced that 14 elephants had been speared around Amboseli and that at least four had died. Spearing is a method most commonly used by the Maasai tribesmen who live in the area.

Kenyan officials haven't confirmed the elephant deaths. But they and local conservationists have offered several reasons for the lion attacks—including revenge for a livestock killing, a dispute between local communities, traditional Maasai manhood rites, and even Maasai trophy hunting.

"They say that two of the people's cows had been killed by the lions," said Patrick Omondi, head of species conservation and management at the Kenya Wildlife Service.

"But when we got to the lions, we have all the skin and teeth ... missing, which suggests that apart from the predation on livestock, there could be a drive to sell lion trophies."

Long-Simmering Crisis

The killings are the latest sign of what conservation groups say has become a nearly intractable crisis all across Kenya.

Kenya's farmers, many of them poor, have long resented elephants, lions, and other animals that are popular with tourists but that threaten livestock and crops. Lions, for instance, hunt over vast ranges that often extend onto human farms.

Many other citizens have also grown bitter after being told to protect wildlife—and facing possible criminal prosecution for killing animals—but rarely seeing any benefit from the money that tourists pour into the economy.

"I'm convinced that the attitude of the people outside protected areas who actually live near and harbor wildlife is so negative that they simply don't care about this wildlife," said Ali Kaka, director of the East African Wildlife Society.

"There is no sense of ownership or feeling that this is really a heritage that is mine and I need to protect it."

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