MASAI MARA, Kenya — "Kenya's 2,000 lions are at grave risk from repeated drought and a poisonous pesticide that wildlife officials on Thursday blamed for at least 76 deaths since 2001.
The problems have contributed to the country's lion population falling by 700 in the last six years, said Charles Musyoki, a senior scientist with the Kenya Wildlife Service. The figures were based on counts carried out every two years.
Officials in the protected 585-sq. miles of the Masai Mara National Reserve showed an Associated Press reporter on Wednesday the remains of an 8-month-old lion and 36 dead vultures that fed on a tainted cow carcass.
Government scientists are still analyzing samples to determine the poison that killed the animals.
Government scientists say that at least 76 lions have been killed since 2001 after eating prey contaminated by a pesticide marketed as Furadan by Philadelphia-based FMC Corp.
The pesticide is used in Kenya to control insects on crops such as corn, rice and sorghum.
Forestry and Wildlife Minister Noah Wekesa told Parliament on Tuesday that FMC has stopped the importation of Furadan into Kenya.
FMC has said it stopped sales of Furadan to Kenya following a report in May 2008 that the pesticide may have been involved in poisoning lions and has instituted a buyback program in Kenya to remove any remaining product from the market.
Musyoki said that herdsmen were also killing lions to protect their livestock that share the large semi-arid reserves with the lions.
The official said the herdsmen had to be taught the importance of the animals to the economy. Tourists flock to the country to see Kenya's big five — the lion, buffalo, elephant, leopard and rhino.
According to research I have done using the internet, " Lions may be practically extinct in the wild in the next 20 years.The so-called "King of the Jungle" is under severe threat, with estimated population throughout the continent down 90 percent in the last two decades. There are probably no more than 30,000 lions left, and some estimates put the number significantly lower — perhaps only a little more than 20,000....few game parks are large enough sustain healthy lion populations, and those that are may become like refuge islands — genetically vulnerable to disease and inbreeding.""Outside the parks, wild lions are increasingly killed by local livestock herders, especially among Kenya's still semi-nomadic Maasai. Traditional herding practices aren't needed so much now that there's a much simpler solution to the threat lions pose to wandering cattle and goats: poison. It's widely available in rural communities where a dollar's worth of pesticide can kill an entire pride of lions. And it's been a Maasai tradition for young warriors to hunt lions with spears."
A Leading lion researcher is Laurence Frank from the University of California, Berkeley; of The Wildlife Conservation Society; and the Panthera Foundation. "Frank established http://www.livingwithlions.org/, to study human-lion conflicts and to find ways to resolve them without the inevitable death of the lions. He soon realized two things: the herder-predator confrontations are growing more frequent as open range land becomes more scarce; and the old traditional herding practices already provide an answer to most problems.
"The real task for Frank and other conservationists is to make the practical consequences of living with lions worthwhile to ordinary rural Kenyans. A lion in the neighborhood — or even over those distant hills — can mean many complications. There are ways to help resolve them: conservation projects; wildlife tourism (though locals seldom see the money); good livestock and wildlife management practices; and an appeal to the inherent Maasai and traditionalist respect for these truly awesome creatures."
"But these will all take time, and lions don't have much of that left."
Another reason that the very existence of lions in Kenya are being threatened is due to the fact that they are being poisoned by pesticides. Daniel Howden in an article at ttp://www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/kenyan-lions-being-poisoned-by-pesticides-1661112.html, states:
"Conservationists in Kenya are calling for a deadly pesticide to be banned after it was linked to the poisoning of a "staggering" number of lions and other wildlife.The East African nation famous for its immense game reserves is also home to traditional cattle herders whose livestock often comes under threat from predators such as lions and hyenas. In the past, this has seen lions shot or speared but more recently herders have switched to using deadly chemicals sprinkled over animal carcasses and left as traps for the big cats."
"The lion researcher Laurence Frank, from the University of California, said lions were dying at a "staggering rate" with as many as 75 poisoned in the past five years. Combined with other threats including loss of habitat, this could eventually see the lion become extinct, Dr Frank told CBS's 60 Minutes."
"Kenya's lion population is a fifth of what it was in the 1970s and across Africa the numbers are down to 30,000 from highs of 200,000. Herders living on the fringe of parks such as the Masai Mara are said to be using a tasteless and odourless chemical known as carbofuran, which, when eaten by animals, leads first to paralysis and then death over the course of 24 to 36 hours."
"The drug is marketed as Furudan and is available in small pellet form over the counter in Kenya. Furudan is already banned in the EU and its use is restricted in the US, where it was blamed for the deaths of two million birds. In its granular form it is used to eradicate insects on crops such as rice and corn."
"The Kenyan conservationist Richard Leakey said: "We are appealing to the government... to go the way of Europe and the USA and ban the importation, sale, distribution and use of this deadly chemical in Kenya." The drug has become well known in rural Kenya, Dr Leakey said, as a way to easily dispose of predators."
"The Philadelphia-based manufacturer of Furudan says it is taking "aggressive action" to prevent misuse of the product. It has halted sales to Kenya and is trying to buy back supplies."
"We will not resume sales until such time as we can be assured that the deliberate widespread misuse of our product won't occur, and if we can't be assured of that there is going to be no more sales to Kenya," said Milton Steele, the vice-president of the FMC corporation. The company had no evidence that its product was directly involved, he added, but would work with conservationists to address the issue.
Simon Thomsett, a Kenyan bird expert, said he feared that Furudan-poisoned carcasses were also connected to "the dramatic drop-off in the number of birds of prey" in recent years. Big predators poisoned with carbofuran are consumed by carrion eaters.
To see a video on this serious problem which threatens not only lions but birds such as vultures in Kenya go and watch it here: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/01/090116-poison-video-wc.html Warning:this video may be disturbing to some of you.
If predators such as lions disappear from Kenya this will have a serious impact on all of the other life forms there due to the fact that the balance of nature will be seriously disrupted. If scavengers such as vultures, and disappear from Kenya, this will result in more disease occurring there not only to wildlife but humans as well. If Lions disappear,then the species they prey on will overpopulate Kenya, and this will result in all life being harmed there.
Lions are apex predators (also known as alpha, super-, or top-level predators) . An apex-predator is "a predator that has virtually no predators of its own, residing at the top of its food chain." ( http://www.pbs.org/kqed/oceanadventures/glossary/). "Apex predator species are often at the end of long food chains where they have a crucial role in maintaining the health of ecosystems.Apex predators affect prey species' population dynamics. Where two competing species are in an ecologically unstable relationship, apex predators tend to create stability if they prey upon both. Inter-predator relationships are also affected by apex status." source:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apex_predator Without these apex predators in Kenya the balance of nature their is going to be seriously disrupted.
With vultures being killed by this deadly chemical, Kenyan faces another problem. According to the website,http://www.projects-abroad.org/projects/conservation-and-environment/south-africa-africans-plains-project/african-vulture/,
"Without vultures, you get many more hyenas. With more hyenas, you get fewer big cats. The lions kill but the hyenas eat the kill. The female cheetah leaves its young when she hunts and the hyenas are watching and waiting."
"The role of vultures in the African ecosystem is fundamental. Without these carrion-feeders removing dead and rotting carcasses there would be a significant increase in flies and disease. But that’s only the beginning. If vultures were to disappear then other scavengers would come to the fore and upset the balance of the ecosystem. Hyenas would multiply and provide competition and direct threats to the big cats such as leopards and cheetahs. Hyenas are powerful animals; they don’t just eat carcasses; they prey directly on upon the young of big cats and can even bring down adults, especially of the smaller species like cheetahs and leopards. But the greatest problem the cats will face is losing their kills to the hyena packs. A solitary cat or even a small pride of lions cannot always defend their kills. In the end they would just die of starvation."
It is wonderful that organizations such as Projects Abroad exist, so that farmers in these areas where wildlife exists will learn to avoid using chemicals which kill these big predators and scavengers, so that the ecosystems in which these animals live will be perpetuated,therefore ensuring that we will always have these beautiful animal species living on the planet!
Sources of images:http://denisglennon.com/files/bb015-vulture-kenya.jpg, http://www.indagare.com/destinations/37/departments,