Saturday, December 20, 2008

Living With Lions

The annual report of the Living With Lions program in Kenya has just arrived. This program, headed by Laurence Frank of the University of California Berkeley has been growing from strength to strength over the last three or four years and shines a bright light on conservation in Kenya that gives one some real hope for the future of Africa’s most charismatic species. Living With Lions has expanded in its two main areas of activity, which are in the Maasai country around Amboseli and in Laikipia district, west and north of Mount Kenya. Some work has also started up in the Masai Mara conservation area, where lions are under heavy threat.

A quote from the report is another from the ongoing litany of conservation messages makes a sad comment on modern life: ...lions, hyenas and other large predators are disappearing under the onslaught of spears, guns and poison. This grisly photo was taken by veterinarian Dr. Patrick Garcia in the Serengeti National park. He and the film crew with whom he was working witnessed the dying moments of a lion caught in a snare.

There are a couple of blogs that give one information about the activities of the group, and currently the most active one is about the Lion Guardians.

To quote the report
“On the Kenyan side, lions are under severe and increasing pressure, as people are spearing and poisoning lions at a rate which threatens population extinction within a few years.”
This photo, taken by Amy Howard, one of the report’s authors, shows two male lions that had been poisoned a couple of years back.

An interesting change has occurred in Kenyan Maasailand, and this quote from the report tells most of the story.
"Sadly two of our study animals, Amber and Sangale were poisoned in January 2008. Because the Lion Guardians had made these animals very familiar to the local people, the Maasai community was incensed at the loss of these well‐known individuals, and the man responsible for their poisoning was shamed by his neighbors. The Lion Guardians and various members of LWL participated in the lions’ post-mortem and follow up investigation. Our work contributed to the perpetrator being found guilty of illegally killing these lions. This is one of the first incidents where a Kenyan court has handed out a guilty verdict on a poisoning case. Use of poison is currently the single greatest threat to Kenya’s lions.

The buy-in by the Maasai is clear when one sees this photo, taken by another LWL team member, Leelah Hezzah, is of Lion Guardian Mokoi using an antenna to track a radio-collared lion.

It is conservation programs like this one, which has involved the local people at every step, that have a chance of working. Long may it continue and continue to grow.

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