The Kenyan Wildlife Service recently announced that massive declines in lion population may lead to their disappearance from the region within less than 2 decades. Kenya currently has an estimated 2000 lions, but is losing the large cats at a rate of around 100 each year.
The dramatic declines in cats in Kenya and the rest of Africa are mostly a result of human population growth and conflict with livestock.
Wildlife biologist Laurence Frank explains, “Vast areas of Kenyan rangelands that held lions 20 years ago are now devoid of nearly all wildlife. Predators have been poisoned and speared, herbivores have been snared for meat, and the rangelands themselves have been destroyed by massive overgrazing by domestic stock.” Other experts report that people commonly lace cattle carcasses with poison to kill entire prides, which also ends up poisoning many other predators and scavengers.
In order to maintain the genetic diversity to ensure a stable lion population at least 50 to 100 prides are necessary.
A crippling drought has been effecting Kenya, forcing increasing amounts of pastoralists to search for water and resources to support their livestock. This migrating pastoral population tends to exploit wildlife areas and out-compete natural inhabitants.
Frank insists, “Only drastic action on many fronts – policy change, effective law enforcement, giving rural people an economic stake in their natural heritage, and a great deal of investment – will prevent the loss of wildlife in Africa.”
Africa’s lion population is falling
An interview with lion researcher Leela Hazzah
(March 25, 2008) The lion is Africa’s best known carnivore. Once widely abundant across the continent, recent surveys show that lion populations have plunged from over 100,000 individuals to around 23,000 over the past century. The reason for recent declines? Lions are poisoned, shot, and speared by locals who see them as a threat to livestock. While lion populations in protected areas remain relatively healthy, conservationists say that without urgent measures, lions may disappear completely from unprotected areas.