Famed Lions Poisoned in Kenya Wildlife Reserve
First, it was Cecil the lion. Now, there’s news that more famous lions have been killed—this time with poison rather than a gun.
The victims come from the Marsh Pride, a family of lions living in the Masai Mara National Reserve in southwest Kenya. They were the stars of the long-running and hugely popular BBC series called Big Cat Diary. They even have their own Facebook page, where the poisoning was confirmed. On Saturday night, they ate a cow carcass laced with poison.
Bibi, one of the pride’s female lions, and at least one other lion, have died. Bibi was found panting and foaming at the mouth, reported the BBC, which had a wildlife crew at the scene. The poison is suspected to be carbofuran, a pesticide. The two dead lions are undergoing necropsies to confirm that, according to Anne Kent Taylor, a conservationist at the Masai Mara reserve and a National Geographic Big Cats Initiative grantee. Another is still missing. The total number of lions poisoned is still unclear.
Nor is it clear who’s behind the attacks, although authorities have arrested at least two people. In the past, some Maasai villagers have poisoned lions to prevent them from attacking their livestock.
Part of the reason the Marsh Pride was so popular with the public was that guides always knew where to find them, wrote Jonathan Scott, an English zoologist and coauthor of a book about them, in a blog post. But lately, they’ve been pushed to the fringes of their territory as some Maasai herders allow their cattle into Masai Mara.
Grazing of livestock in the reserve has increased exponentially, even though it’s illegal to do so. A 2009 Journal of Zoology study found that since 1977, it had increased more than 1,100 percent.
There’s a vicious cycle happening, Taylor said. Maasai landowners have seen their grazing lands restricted by land privatization and by agreements with wildlife conservancies, which have a strong record of successful wildlife conservation. In exchange for a considerable stipend, the Maasai agree to sell or set aside some of their land for wildlife conservation and tourism—no grazing allowed. They then use that money to buy more cows, but they have less land for those cows to graze on. The resulting overgrazing means that the herders need somewhere else for their cattle.
During the day, tens of thousands of unfenced cattle graze near the reserve. At nightfall, when the tourists go back to their camps, the animals are herded into the reserve where the grazing is better. That’s the same time that nocturnal predators, including lions, are on the hunt.
“We could have said ‘shocking news’ in regard to the fate of the Marsh Pride—but there is nothing shocking anymore as to what is happening in the Masai Mara,” Scott wrote on his blog. As herds of cattle trampled the grass and shrubs, leaving behind only dirt and dung, the lions have been forced away from the Musiara Marsh, the area where they would rest and breed.
Each year, herders have always killed, either by poison or spear, some lions. “But in the last few years, the situation has escalated beyond all reason,” Scott wrote.
The lions hunt the cattle, and so the Maasai retaliate against the lions.