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Update on Lion Killings in the Maasai Steppe

  • 03/02/09
  • Kissui

In my previous blog post, I promised to provide details about the recent human-lion conflict incident in our study area in which a male and a lioness from one of our study prides called Altipiano were speared to death because of predation on livestock.

The incident took place at the end of December 2008, and summed up a total of twelve lions killed in retaliation for livestock predation for 2008. Since this incident, three other incidents have occurred in Jan/Feb 2009 where at least four lions from other prides have fallen victims to retaliatory killing.

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Retaliatory killing took at least 24 lions in 2007. During 2004-2008, at least 149 lions were killed in retaliation for livestock predation in 12 villages that we have consistently surveyed during this period.

Livestock predation and retaliatory killing of predators is a huge conservation challenge in the Maasai Steppe because of the unique dynamic interaction between people and wildlife. Although the wildlife migrates over an area 30,000 sq.km., the core protected areas cover less than 10% of the entire landscape over which the wildlife migrate.

We have regularly surveyed Esilalei, Selela, Loiborsoit, Emboret, Engaruka chini & juu, Oltukai, Minjingu and Makuyuni villages over the past four years to understand the magnitude of human-lion conflicts, its impact and how the conflicts can be mitigated. Other villages being surveyed include Loibo-serit, Lolkisale and Mswakini.

In the wet seasons (i.e. November through May), migratory herbivores from core protected areas spend up to six months in communal land outside protected areas. Lions move in response to herbivore migration. Livestock predation and retaliatory killing is highest in wet season months.

Because the human population is fast growing, lions must now navigate through more and more people and livestock when they leave protected areas. Because lions from protected areas utilize communal land for nearly half a year, the future survival for lions in the ecosystem will depend on successful resolution of conflicts and increased tolerance to carnivores by livestock keepers. Livestock attack events by lions strongly correlate the number of lions killed, suggesting that predation problem exposes lions to increased mortality risk due to retaliatory killing.

About the Author

Lions are rapidly declining across Africa. Bernard Kissui, AWF’s Lion Research Scientist, is working with lions and people in northern Tanzania to prevent further loss of one of Africa’s greatest animals. Kissui is studying the movements of lions in and out of Tarangire National Park and works with local people to prevent the loss of livestock which leads to human-lion conflict. Equipped with his Ph.D., field equipment, sound relationships with local communities, and fierce determination, Kissui plans to bring lions roaring back to the Tarangire ecosystem.

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