Poisoned Pride: How to Save a Lion by Buying a Cow
Like many wildlife preserves throughout Africa, the threat posed by poaching the animals of Amboseli represents an ongoing battle. In fact, conservationists fear that the park's lions risk being eradicated from Amboseli in just a few years. There are now fewer than 100 lions in the greater Amboseli region -- by far the most significant threat to these animals is from pastoralists who are in the habit of taking revenge on lions and leopards for the cattle they have lost to these predators. Between 2003 and 2007, for example, 63 lions were killed in just two Maasai-owned group ranches in the region. Their crime? Straying threateningly close to domestic animals. Before the divvying-up of Africa into parcels of land for agriculture and modern development, lions were less likely to prey on livestock, but as human encroachment has restricted the movement of wildlife, it stands to reason that lions (by all accounts, lazy creatures) will target more easily accessible species, such as cows. It's a vicious circle that, if allowed to run its course, will result in the imminent decimation of all Amboseli's lions.
Conservationists have been hard at work developing schemes to reduce community anger against predators and thus cut back on the number of killings. One successful model here and elsewhere in Kenya is a program in which communities are reimbursed for livestock killed by the cats. So instead of seeking revenge on killer-predators, Maasai pastoralists can claim financial compensation. Theoretically, this should minimize the number of killings. In fact, the results have been dramatic. Successful conservancies in the Masai Mara area where the compensation scheme has been up and running since 2001 have seen lion numbers double. And on one Amboseli ranch (bordering the ranches where 63 lions were killed) where the scheme was established in 2003, just 4 lions were lost during the same time span. Funding for such programs is mostly sourced from visitor entry fees (usually called "conservation fees" on private concessions), although there is always a potential shortfall for which private funding and donor money must be found. Funding for cattle compensation in the Mara Triangle fell dramatically during the post-election violence in Kenya in early 2008, when revenue dropped by $50,000 per month thanks to a dramatic dip in tourist numbers. Such financial shortfalls also impact other essential antipoaching resources such as the number of patrols by rangers because of a sudden lack of money for wages.
Sadly, while gains are being made in the saga of human-lion conflict, the dangers faced by wildlife have unexpectedly worsened, thanks to the careless interference by humans on other levels. The use of agricultural poisons, for example, is becoming a serious threat, potentially much worse than traditional poaching involving snaring and spearing. Whereas a warrior's spear might target and kill a single lion, poison works indiscriminately and unexpectedly, with the potential to decimate entire prides. In Kenya, Carbofuran is a particularly nasty insecticide that first gained notoriety more than a decade ago, when it was blamed for widespread bird deaths in Kenya. It's illegal in Europe but is available over-the-counter in Kenya. Exposure to the chemical interferes with the nervous system, causing blurred vision, confusion, and general muscular weakness; in high doses, it results in cardiorespiratory paralysis and death. In early 2008, it killed five hippos and paralyzed four lions that fed on tainted carcasses. Following this event, conservationists have been lobbying to ban the insecticide (sold in Kenya as Furadan), which is sprayed directly onto soil and plants. Many believe that, should the use of the chemical persist, not only will specific lion prides be at risk, but there's every chance many scavenging species will be endangered. At least two different species of vulture in Kenya could become extinct within a decade if the use of Carbofuran persists.
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