Since you love lions so much, give them space

Thursday April 21 2016

A Kenya Wildlife Service ranger shoots the lion 'Mohawk' after it was spotted roaming in Isinya, on the outskirts of Nairobi, after it clawed a man. A pride of lions is on the loose in Kilifi county. PHOTO | AFP

A Kenya Wildlife Service ranger shoots the lion 'Mohawk' after it was spotted roaming in Isinya, on the outskirts of Nairobi, after it clawed a man. A pride of lions is on the loose in Kilifi county. PHOTO | AFP 

Somebody once wondered why human beings get so affected by active death while at the same time they are so indifferent to its passive form.

We will all rush to rescue a drowning child but ignore the plight of many others dying slowly and silently of disease, hunger, and neglect.

I recalled this in the wake of the public outcry over the killing of the stray male lion, Mohawk, by a Kenya Wildlife Service ranger recently.

Now, if Kenyans love wildlife so much, why has the country lost more than 60 per cent of its wild animals in the past three decades without anyone raising a finger to stop the carnage?

Anybody who used Mombasa road 20 years ago would attest to the fact that many wild animals could be seen along the highway around the Athi-Kapiti-Konza plains. There is almost none today.

It is the same case around Isinya-Kajiado-Namanga, Naivasha-Gilgil, and Maai Mahiu-Narok.

Even protected national parks have reported the same trend.

In the early 1990s, Nairobi National Park was teeming with herds of wildebeest, zebras, and elands, but today you would be lucky to count just 100 of any of them in a morning game drive.

Where have all these animals gone? Philosophically speaking, these animals disappear under similar circumstances as Mohawk, only that the lion died actively and directly while the other wildlife die passively and indirectly.

INSUFFICIENT SPACE

The similarities are subtle but true. Mohawk died due to insufficient space to live in, just like the other animals whose land has been turned to “more profitable” use over the years.

Mohawk was killed by a ranger, who should protect him, the same way the rest of wildlife is being killed by the very laws that purport to protect it.

KWS may be competently overseeing the physical security of wildlife and national parks, but it is also presiding over the decline of the animals because the laws it is enforcing are the biggest long-term threat to conservation as they have made wildlife an unprofitable land use.

So, what is the matter with the lions at the Nairobi National Park?

Contrary to the statement by the KWS director, the lions are not moving out of Nairobi Park because of disturbance along the Southern Bypass.

If this were the case, the animals would be moving deeper into the park, away from the disturbance.

In any case, the Isinya area is far from the bypass and this would have affected other species as well.

Lions organise themselves into prides that are highly territorial, meaning that they defend their physical space to keep out other prides.

DETERMINANT

Hence, in small national parks such as Nakuru and Nairobi, the population of lions and other large predators, for example cheetahs and wild dogs, is determined by space, not food.

Pride formation is an aggressive activity and weak and old males are squeezed out of prime habitats and they end up dying of hunger or predation by hyenas.

It is a jungle out there indeed! However, if there is human settlement close by, such lions get easy prey such as livestock (and people).

Many critics observed that there are only 35 lions in the park and wondered how KWS would dare kill even a single one.

As I have argued above, however much food there may be in the park, the space available cannot sustain a bigger population of lions and every time this peak is reached, the animals will seek more land outside.

This is because more economically profitable land activities have encroached on the park and blocked the migratory corridor that was once a cardinal ecological breather.

To all those Kenyans who poured out their emotions in solidarity with Mohawk (and attended the memorial), the gauntlet goes back to you.

If you love animals so much, create space for them. Sentimental love alone will not save our wildlife.

Mr Njaga is a travel consultant and safari operator. [email protected]