Last week we wrote to you about the threat faced by the predators of the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem and how MPT is working to alleviate this danger. The problem in short is that the dramatic falloff in the numbers of prey species — created by the recent severe drought — has led predators to target livestock more than ever, thereby increasing tensions within the community and fueling a heightened threat of retaliatory lion killing. However, thanks to the success of MPT’s Predator Compensation Fund and other Trust initiatives, we are happy to report a major positive shift towards conservation and tolerance within the communities covered . . . even in the face of this crisis.
Since first writing about this great challenge, MPT has continued its work – in collaboration with the effected communities, KWS, and other NGOs – to minimize the conflict for both livestock owners and the threatened predators, lions in particular. Nonetheless, today we have some sad news to report.
Last week MPT chairman Richard Bonham and a team of Mbirikani Community Game Scouts, KWS rangers, and Predator Compensation Fund staff members responded to an incident where, during the previous night, a pride of lions attacked a boma – the traditional corral used by the Maasai people to protect their livestock and their families at night. This most unfortunate incident resulted in the death of one lioness.
One of the clauses of the Predator Compensation Fund is that a community under its protection can be denied payment for depredated livestock in the event a lion is unlawfully killed by any member of that community. MPT had to verify the facts very closely to determine what action to take in response to this particular situation. In the days that followed an investigation of the event was undertaken to determine the circumstances behind the killing and whether the PCF agreement had been violated.
The story unfolds as follows: early in the morning following the overnight killing, MPT’s radio operator received a call detailing that a lion had been killed during the night on Ogulului Group Ranch (“OGR”). This is the kind of call that we all have been dreading during this crisis — after nearly two years without a single lion being killed on this group ranch. Richard flew there immediately in MPT’s Super Cub aircraft, circling over open bush country until the exact location was found. Upon his landing, more of the story’s details were learned.
During the night a pride of lions surrounded a boma in the southern sector of OGR. The pride had come out of Amboseli NP — driven there by hunger — to attack protected livestock . . . as their natural prey, zebras and wildebeest, had for the most part died in the drought. It is worth noting that although attacking protected livestock in a boma at night is not uncommon to lions during normal times – but to a far less frequent degree – under the conditions of this crisis, these incidents are occurring with alarming frequency. As the night passed, the lions surrounding the boma grew in number and their confidence and commitment to kill livestock grew as well.
Finally, in the early morning hours, one young lioness, driven by the energy and intensity of the snarling pride – that numbered fourteen individuals by this point – jumped over the acacia fence and attacked a cow. One terrified inhabitant of the boma — only 15 yards away when the lioness landed — responded instantly by spearing her. As testimonial to the ancient skills of the Maasai warrior, the throw was well aimed and hit the lioness straight in the heart, instantly killing her.
Following further discussion with the PCF Advisory Committee of OGR – an elected group of community leaders who act as advisors and mediators between the community and MPT – a decision was rendered. This killing of a lioness was a clear case of self-defense and therefore both legal and acceptable. Nonetheless, this very sad turn of events drives MPT to re-double its efforts to stop this from happening again – or at least to stop it from happening as much as is humanly possible.
The story of this lion killing, even though justified as self-defense, illustrates again the problems faced by both sides in this conflict — human communities trying to protect their families and what is left of their most precious asset, their cattle, and predatorial wildlife desperate to feed themselves and survive. Most worrying, this greatly-heightened conflict situation appears to have no end in sight until the wildlife numbers of the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem pick back up . . . in the coming years.
What is noteworthy about this crisis so far is not what has happened, but what has not happened. In the past, tensions far less than the current crisis would have already resulted in a widespread retaliatory lion massacre. The lion population of this ecosystem could have – almost certainly would have — already been reduced so greatly and so suddenly that it could not recover. PCF is clearly succeeding in its main purpose – to greatly increase tolerance for predator attacks on livestock and to provide critical economic benefits to livestock owners when they suffer losses — in return for living in harmony with wildlife.
This story is far from over, so please stay posted for more information. Until then MPT will remain intensely vigilant and continue our efforts to alleviate this situation to the best of our ability.
The MPT Team