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KWS goes digital in tracking, protecting lions

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By SCOLA KAMAU

Posted  Monday, July 19   2010 at  00:00
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The Kenya Wildlife Service has introduced a digital animal tracking system, in a bid to reduce human-wildlife conflict.

By last week, KWS in partnership with the University of the Netherlands had fitted five lions at the Amboseli National Park with GSM-enabled collars.

The tracking system transmits data on the animal’s location to either a cellphone or a GSM ground station in the form of a short text message.

The communications manager at KWS, Paul Udoto said the data collected also helps to identify the season when lions migrate near human settlements.

So far, the information has been instrumental in outlining measures to reduce human conflict with the lions.

These include meetings with the community to empower them on best animal keeping practices and how to erect homes that lions will not penetrate easily.

However, last year the human- wildlife conflict escalated due to a prolonged drought that saw the carnivores leave their habitat in search of prey near human settlements.

KWS spokesperson Kentice Tikolo, said the Amboseli National park lost 80 per cent of its herbivores to the drought she described as the worst in 26 years.

KWS was forced to ferry thousands of zebras and wildebeest into the park to feed the starving lions and hyenas.

Human-wildlife conflict has resulted in the deaths of more than 200 lions in the Amboseli and Tsavo ecosystems since 2001.

Countrywide, the lion population dropped from an estimated 2,749 in 2002 to 2,280 in 2004 and 2000 animals by 2009, according to the KWS.

Living with Lions, a research and conservation group that is reaching unprotected areas to save the remaining lions and other predators, is working alongside KWS to address the conflict.

Under its Lion Guardians project, the organisation is working with local communities to improve their livestock enclosures, change herding practices and educate them on lion movements, through an early warning system.

Lions are often killed through poisoning, use of spears or guns in revenge for attacks on livestock.

Conservationists in Kenya say carbofuran is the most widely used pesticide to kill wildlife such as lions and leopards.

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