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Kenya's Lions Could Disappear in 20 Years
NAIROBI, Kenya, August 17, 2009 (ENS) - Kenya could lose all its lions in the next 20 years if the current rate of decline continues unless urgent and decisive measures are taken, the Kenya Wildlife Service warned today.

World famous for its wildlife, Kenya now has 2,000 lions in seven national parks and conservation areas, but the lion population has been declining by an average of 100 animals per year for the past seven years.

Lion in Kenya's Masai Mara Park Reserve (Photo courtesy Wikipedia)

Kenya Wildife Service spokesman Paul Udoto says lions are dying "due to a combination of factors, including human wildlife conflict, destruction of habitats, climate change, disease and increase in human population."

The first KWS chairman, conservationist Dr. Richard Leakey, who now chairs the nonprofit Wildlife Direct, says lions are dying from ingesting animal carcasses laced with toxic carbofuran pesticide. Carbofuran has become known in rural communities in Kenya as an easy way to get rid of predators, Leakey told the BBC. He is lobbying government agencies to ban the pesticide.

The population of lions has dropped from an estimated 2,749 in the year 2002 through 2,280 in 2004 to the current 2,000 animals.

To reverse this trend, Kenya Wildlife Service is drafting a comprehensive national lion conservation and management strategy to be launched in September, Udoto says.

The new strategy is intended to guide lion conservation efforts in the long-term and prescribes actions that need to be taken by various stakeholders coordinated by Kenya Wildife Service to reverse the declining national lion population.

Meanwhile, the Service is creating public awareness of the issue and monitoring lion movements.

A 12-member team of KWS scientists is in Amboseli National Park this week to replace movement tracking devices on two lions. The two collars were among five devices fitted on Amboseli lions in July 2007 in order to monitor their movements and understand human-lion conflict in the Amboseli ecosystem.

For the last two years, KWS scientists collected data on the five lions’ movement patterns until the two collars expired and have stopped transmitting data.

The Amboseli Lion Project is a joint effort between Kenya Wildife Service and the Leiden University, Netherlands under a Memorandum of Understanding between the two institutions.

"The trend of lion population decline is disturbing and every effort needs to be made to ensure that Kenya either stabilizes its population at the current population of 2000 lions or increases the numbers to an ecologically acceptable level," Udoto said.

Quick and decisive actions need to be taken to create public awareness as well as formulation of national guidelines on lion conservation and management in the long-term, Udoto says.

He points to the Amboseli Lion Project as a good opportunity for Kenya to understand how part of its lion population is behaving to enable the formulation of appropriate ecosystem level conservation approaches.

Tourist vehicles stopped by a lion in the road. Amboseli National Park. August 2008. (Photo by PG Jayaram)

Lions have a special place in Kenyans’ livelihood and conservation efforts. They are the symbol for national strength, and many organizations use a lion image on their logos to symbolize the strength of their institutions.

The lion is one of the Big Five animals that visitors come to Kenya from all over the world to see. Tourism accounts for 10 percent of Kenya's Gross Domestic Product, making it the third largest contributor to the country's GDP after agriculture and manufacturing. In 2007, about two million visitors entered the country, up from 1.6 million arrivals in 2006.

The Kenya Ministry of Tourism says a thriving visitor industry provides encouragement for environmental conservation because of its value as a resource base for the industry.

The Maasai Mara ecosystem, Nairobi and Kajiado in southwestern Kenya is the area with the greatest number of lions, currently numbering 825, according to the Kenya Wildlife Service.

The Tsavo Conservation Area, including two national parks, has 675 lions on its 10 million acres of wilderness in southeastern Kenya.

Laikipia, in north central Kenya just north of the equator, has 230 lions and the nearby Isiolo/Samburu Complex presently counts 100 lions.

In Northern Kenya, there are 100 lions; the Meru Conservation Area in eastern Kenya has 40 lions in its three national parks and three nature reserves; and Aberdare National Park in Kenya's central highlands estimates 30 lions inhabit its lands.

Recent studies suggest that lion populations across Africa may have decreased nearly 90 percent in just one decade, with fewer than 20,000 remaining in just a handful of countries, according to the nonprofit Lion Conservation fund, based in the United States, which supports the Centre for Lion Conservation and Research in Kenya.

Two recent surveys have provided current estimates of the African lion population, "with some ground-truthing," according the the Red List of Threatened Species compiled by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, IUCN.

The African Lion Working Group, a network of specialists affiliated with the IUCN SSC Cat Specialist Group, conducted a mail survey and compiled estimates of 100 known African lion populations, published in 2004 by H. Bauer and S. Van Der Merwe. Not included were populations of known existence, but unknown or unestimated size. The ALWG African lion population estimate is 23,000, with a range of 16,500-30,000.

An earlier survey, published in 2002, was carried out by Philippe Chardonnet and sponsored by the International Foundation for the Conservation of Wildlife and Conservation Force. He compiled estimates for 144 individual African lion populations, grouped into 36 isolated subpopulations and included extrapolation of estimates of known populations into areas where lion status was unknown. Chardonnet estimated 39,000 lions in Africa, with a range of 29,000-47,000.

Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.

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