Kenya has launched a national largest carnivore conservation and management strategy. The Africa’s first ever such strategies provide a clear roadmap for the conservation of cheetahs, lions, leopards, stripped and spotted hyenas and the African wild dogs. The need for national strategies to guide efforts to conserve large carnivores was suggested in the year 2000 and a national large carnivore task force constituted to champion the process. Large carnivores are in decline throughout the world, and Kenya’s carnivores are no exception. Lions play a critical role in Kenya’s tourism industry for lion presence in an area is considered an indicator of its wild and natural integrity. The lion is thus one of the flagship species of Kenya for research and tourism and indeed one of the BIG FIVE.
Despite their reduced populations, large carnivores still cause problems for pastoralists and farmers and, for conservation managers. According to Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) attacks on livestock by large carnivores is a serious problem – affects the pastoralists’ livelihood who latter kill them, many of which are species of local or international conservation concern. A recent, serious human-wildlife conflict zone is the Amboseli National Park and the surrounding areas. According to KWS, outside protected areas, the negative impact of large carnivores on human livelihoods may be reduced by limiting livestock losses – but a complementary approach is to offset those losses against gains from alternative income sources.
Conflict between people and carnivores poses has been cited alongside other factors, including destruction of habitats, loss of food, climate change, and increase in human population for the rapid decline in carnivore population. The just ended prolonged drought was the worst that had ever been felt in the area. Some parts of Kenya can and do support reasonable densities of large carnivores – however, in other areas the presence of large carnivores is incompatible with existing land uses. The African lion is classified as vulnerable by IUCN. The world population is declining. Lions have been extirpated from at least 30 percent of their historical range in Eastern and Southern Africa and Kenya’s lions are no exception.
As often is the case in conservation, there is limited data on status, population trend, and ecology. However, Kenya’s national population of lions was estimated at 2,749 in 2002, 2,280 in 2004 and about 2000 in 2008. The number of herbivores was reduced from as many as 7000 to just 300. Already, the communities had lost over 80 per cent of their livestock to the drought. “The drought took a heavy toll both on wild animals and the habitats we care for,” explains Kenya’s Forestry and Wildlife Minister Dr Noah Wekesa. “Besides, it also adversely affected the livestock of communities living adjacent to national parks and reserves. One of the consequences of the drought was increase in human wildlife conflict.”
When the lions and hyenas turned to the remaining livestock, the communities were distressed, and even attacked them in return. The minister notes that the success of Kenya’s conservation efforts largely depended on the goodwill of communities living adjacent to national parks and reserves. “This means we have to protect the livelihoods of these communities and promote harmonious co-existence with wildlife,” the minister says. KWS has greatly intervened; including meetings with communities and lion collaring in various parts of the country to monitor their movements and feeding habits. Developing mechanisms for local people to benefit from the presence of large carnivores forms an integral part of the carnivore strategies, reads a KWS press statement.
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