The lion’s last roar? Kenya wakes up to new threat to its big cats

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Posted  Sunday, April 17   2011 at  10:46

Mighty as they are, lions are a vulnerable lot, says Dr Charles Musyoki, the Kenya Wildlife Service scientist in charge of “other threatened species” apart from elephants and rhinos.

In less than a century, countries like Nigeria have lost all their wild lions. The same goes for Cameroon.

It’s a story replicated in many West African countries.

The two strongholds for free ranging lions in the world today are Kenya and Tanzania.

“But,” warns the scientist, “at the current rate of decline, lions in Kenya will be extinct in 20 years.”

In light of this, Kenya is the first country to put in place strategic plans to save its wild cats.

In 2009, a large carnivore strategic plan was launched for the lion, cheetah, spotted and striped hyenas and the African wild dog.

Missing in it, for now, is the leopard — for it’s hard to verify the cat’s population as it is very elusive.

Dr Musyoki gives the current inventory of two other big carnivores in Kenya — striped hyena (about 1,000); and spotted hyena (4,000 in 1988, but an update is needed).

Kenya and Egypt lead the pack in the numbers of striped hyenas.

In 2002, the lion population was estimated at 2,700. In 2009, the number fell to below 2,000 — a decline of 100 lions per year.

“In Kenya, there are sub-populations of lions. In the Masai Mara, the last census yielded 825; Tsavo – 675; Laikipia – 230; Meru Conservation Area – 40; Samburu-Isiolo – 100 and on the borders of Ethiopia and Somalia – 100. That brings the total to 1,970,” he said.

The lions of Laikipia, Samburu and the neighbouring areas are outside the protected zones.

It has come to light that lion parts — such as bones, hair, teeth and claws — are in high demand in the Far East, replacing the traditional trade in tiger parts since the crash in tiger numbers this century.

The future is equally grim for the cheetah. The 1,160 cheetahs left in Kenya today cover only 23 per cent of the historic range, which until independence in 1963 covered most of Kenya, save for the mountains.

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