Lions in Nairobi? A new suburban problem
On the outskirts of Kenya's capital city, stray lions from Nairobi National Park have begun to prey on domestic herds. Masai herdsmen threaten to take action if the government doesn't.
Kenya’s four-month-long Great Wildebeest Migration began this month, with herds of animals crossing the crocodile-infested Mara River into the Maasai Mara Game Reserve from Tanzania's Serengeti park, and tourists have begun their own mad rush to the Kenyan bush to take in the spectacle. This was never just a matter of wildebeests on the move, because where the wildebeests go, leopards, lions, and hyenas inevitably follow.Skip to next paragraph
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But for mass migration, and for hungry lions, tourists need go no farther than Nairobi.
Over the past six months, stray lions from Nairobi National Park, on the capital city's outskirts, have been venturing into Nairobi's suburbs, preying on cattle, sheep, and goats. It's a matter of concern to members of the Masai community, who live off of herding on the outskirts of Nairobi, and who are demanding action from the government. Some Masai have already begun killing lions to protect their herds and families.
The human-wildlife conflict – an almost inevitable factor of life in Nairobi as human settlement moves ever closer to national parks and wildlife areas – peaked in June, when Masai warriors speared to death six lions in Ilkeek-Lemedung'i village in Kitengela area on the southern side of the park. The predators had killed 13 goats and sheep, and mauled one person in an attack, according to members of the community. Three other lions were killed in December 2011 and January 2012 near Nairobi Park. Although killing lions is illegal here and the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) has promised to arrest the killers, no one has been arrested or charged.
“The killings are regrettable, but this was a reaction of the community which feels frustrated and threatened. The situation has gone from bad to worse,” says Sidney Quntai, the chairman of Kenya Coalition for Wildlife Conservation and Management, a civil society organization. “It is difficult to sleep peacefully at night, since one has to keep ears and eyes open. In case of noise one creeps out to see if the animals are safe,” adds Mr. Quntai.
Located seven kilometers from Nairobi, and covering 44 miles square, Nairobi National Park is by no means the only park in the world located near a major metropolis. The Indian city of Mumbai, for instance, has Sanjay Gandhi National Park, home to leopards who occasionally prey on the animals of shack-dwellers who live on its perimeter. But Nairobi's claim of sheltering the “big five” – lions, leopards, elephants, buffaloes, and rhinos – does help to attract thousands of local and international tourists.
In a country where tourism makes up 12 percent of gross domestic product, and 21 percent of its foreign exchange earnings, nobody wants to do anything that might disrupt that business. But when lions prowl the suburbs of a capital city, the call for action is inevitable.