Incidents recall the Cecil case in Zimbabwe
NAIROBI, Kenya; JOS, Nigeria––More than 2,000 Kenyans had signed petitions protesting the violent deaths of two lions on the outskirts of Nairobi, the national capital, within 48 hours of the shooting of the first lion, Mohawk, and 24 hours of the discovery of the remains of the second, Lemek.
The rising furor on behalf of the lions resembled the international outcry after U.S. trophy hunter Walter James Palmer and guide Theo Bronkhorst baited the lion Cecil out of Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, wounded him circa July 6, 2015, and tracked the wounded lion for 40 hours before dispatching him.
Lions killed for different reasons
But there were significant differences. Cecil was killed just for his head and other body parts. Mohawk was killed in the name of public safety. And no one as yet knows why Lemek was killed. That he was speared to protect livestock appeared as of April 1, 2016 to be the leading theory.
The Masai, a nomadic pastoralist herding tribe indigenous to Kenya, have long regarded killing a lion as a rite of manhood. The Masai, however, have de-emphasized lion-killing in recent years.
“It has become habit to apportion blame on our morans [warriors] whenever lions disappear,” Masai tribal representative James Turere told Kurgat Marindan of the Nairobi Star. “We did not kill Lemek. It was not us,” Turere insisted.
Threw rocks at lion
“Africa Network for Animal Welfare joins Kenyans and the international community in strongly condemning the recent brutal killing of lions in Kajiado County,” said ANAW founder Jsophat Ngonyo.
“The first killing,” Ngonyo recounted, “was that of Mohawk by Kenya Wildlife Service rangers at Isinya in Kajiado County, 35 kilometers south of Nairobi. Mohawk was a majestic 13-year-old male lion, so named due to the shape of his black mane.
“A group of men had surrounded the lion in the town of Isinya upon spotting him,” Ngonyo said. “As they took pictures, they threw rocks at him. Finally Mohawk raised his paw and thrashed one of the men,” who had reportedly tried to chase Mohawk on a motorbike. “At that point, sensing danger, the rangers––who were already on the scene––used nine live bullets and mowed Mohawk down.
“According to the Kenya Wildlife Service,” Ngonyo added, “Mohawk had escaped from Nairobi National Park two days before, forced out in a territorial dispute with another lion. So he walked south, looking for another place to roam, slipping through an unfenced portion of the park. He met his death at the hands of those tasked to protect him.”
Less than a day later, Ngonyo continued, “Two-and-a-half-year-old Lemek’s carcass was found speared in Old Kitengela Township, 20 kilometers south of Nairobi. The perpetrators of this killing are still at large.”
Elaborated the Kenya Wildlife Service, “A Kenya Wildlife Service team, working in collaboration with the Empakasi area chief, discovered Lemek’s body under a large thicket beside a dry riverbed.
“Earlier the day, Kenya Wildlife Service had received a report of two or three lions sighted in the Oleshei area near Old Kitengela Township, which prompted KWS to mobilize an aerial search,” the KWS statement added.
“The search, which was intended to observe and drive the reported lions back to the park, lasted three hours and yielded no results. Kenya Wildlife Service is currently establishing if Lemek was one of the lions reported earlier in the day,” the statement finished.
“Disturbance of eco-systems”
Said Ngonyo, “We condemn both acts in the strongest terms possible because they were unwarranted, unnecessary, and uncalled for, especially because the factors that caused the lions to leave the park in the first place are due to human disturbance of their eco-systems as a result of development going on around Nairobi National Park. In addition to this,” Ngonyo emphasized, “there were better alternatives to this situation. In Mohawk’s case, for example, sedating the animal and moving him back to the park was a viable solution. Mohawk was not a rogue [whose behavior] warranted such a painful and meaningless death.
“Nairobi National Park had only 35 lions,” Ngonyo noted. “Across Kenya, lion numbers are estimated at below 2,000,” down from 2,749 in 2002, according to Kenya Wildlife Service data.
Between 600 and 700 of the Kenyan lions reside in Tsavo National Park, a day’s drive east of Nairobi, where two maneless male lions called The Ghost and The Darkness killed as many as 135 railway workers in 1898-1899.
(See also Man-eaters of Kenya: The Ghost & The Darkness.)
Third escape in two months
“This was the third time in two months that lions had escaped from Nairobi National Park,” Ngonyo continued. “The population around the park has grown more than tenfold since it was established in 1946. Where the lions once would have wandered peacefully, they now encounter suburbs, farms and commercial buildings.
“It is important that we all see this not only in terms of Mohawk and Lemek only,” Ngonyo finished, “but in terms of what it means for all our animals. We are concerned about it happening again and we are emphatic that this should never happen again. No animal life should be lost due to a senseless reaction, especially where the animal is not a threat to the [human] population.”
“Justice for Mohawk”
Helping to draw attention to the Kenya lion killings is the “Justice for Mohawk” Facebook event page, hosted by independent activist Christa Christina Witvrouwen.
Wrote Witvrouwen, “Mohawk was the Lion King of Nairobi National Park. He was iconic with the park, which is the only wildlife park within the confines of a capital city in the entire world. In Kenya our heritage is our wildlife. The protectors of our heritage, i.e the government and Kenya Wildlife Service, shot dead this lion in cold blood without any rhyme or reason except their total incompetence. The Park itself is under threat by government-sanctioned development projects that are sure to ruin it.”
Lions on the road
Summarized National Geographic Wildlife Watch blogger Jacob Kushner, “First, a lioness ventured into the city as a decoy to draw officials away from her cubs that were lost in an army barracks. Then, just weeks later, a pride of six lions breeched a fence into a pasture, killing as many as 120 goats and sheep. One lion lost his bearings and ended up on a major highway, injuring a man before finding his way back into Nairobi National Park, located adjacent to Kenya’s capital city.”
Then came the Mohawk and Lemek killings.
National Geographic conservation biologist Luke Dollar attributed the incidents to the combination of lion population growth within Nairobi National Park with a lack of other habitat accessible to them.
Carrying capacity of 40 lions
The park has since the 1950s been believed to be capable of supporting not more than 40 lions. As the resident population approaches the upper limit, Kenya Wildlife Service spokesperson Paul Gathitu told Kushner, lions try to disperse.
Lions might move through relatively open countryside if they disperse through the unfenced portion of the park.
Or they might venture into the city of Nairobi, Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust elephant and rhino orphanage, the parking lot of the globally notorious Carnivore wild game restaurant, the grounds of the Kenya SPCA, or even the national headquarters of the Kenya Wildlife Service itself if they go the wrong way.
Because the Nairobi National Park lions are familiar with roads and traffic––much of the park is bordered by the highway from the airport into the central city––it is not unusual for a wandering lion to lope alongside a road in search of new habitat.
Karoo lion Sylvester
Contributing to the view that Mohawk, at least, should have been captured alive and relocated to another national park was the March 31, 2016 success of the South African National Park Service in recapturing a four-year-old lion named Sylvester near Beaufort West.
Tranquilizer-darted from a low-flying aircraft, Sylvester was carried three kilometers on a stretcher to the vehicle that took him back to an enclosure at the park, called a boma.
“The lion will be kept in the park in the boma until a final decision is reached on its future‚” Karoo National Park spokesperson Wanda Mkutshulwa told media.
This was Sylvester’s second escape from Karoo National Park. During his first walkabout, in June 2015, he killed at least 15 sheep during three weeks at large.
Jos Wildlife Park escape
The Nairobi and Karoo National Park lion escapes followed the escape of a young lion named Leo from the Jos Wildlife Park, actually a zoo, in Jos, Nigeria, on December 2, 2015.
Leo “was killed by security forces, but could have been darted and tranquilized,” e-mailed ANIMALS 24-7 reader Shamsudeen Fagbo. Fagbo, coordinator for zoonotic diseases, at the Ministry of Health in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and a longtime moderator for the Program for Emerging Diseases (ProMED), has also done extensive field research in Nigeria.
“The killing was justified by most, but generated controversy” Fagbo recounted.”
The controversy escalated after Hir Joseph of the Daily Trust, of Abuja, Nigeria, reported on January 27, 2016 that other Jos Wildlife Park facilities are so dilapidated as to allow further escapes.
A mature lioness, Hir Joseph wrote, is kept in a cage, which “as many others confining other animals, was provided in 1972 at the establishment of the park by Sylvia Sykes, a British professor of zoology.
“The cage is old and weak, and needs to be replaced,” acknowledged John Doy, general manager of the Plateau State Tourism Corporation, which owns the Jos Wildlife Park.
No tranquilizer darts
Continued Hir Joseph, “Personnel at the park had said Leo had been hungry for days, and was probably on its way to finding food when he jumped onto a raised platform,” causing the cage to open.
Doy told Hir Joseph that the Jos Wildlife Park did not have tranquilizer darts.
Civil rights lawyer steps up
On March 7, 2016 the Leadership, of Abuja, reported that “An Enugu-based wildlife activist, barrister Chukwunonso Daniel Ogbe, has petitioned the Commissioner for Culture, Tourism and Hospitality, Plateau State, demanding a variety of corrective actions.
“There are safer means by which the slain lion could have been recaptured alive without posing any threat to human beings,” Ogbe said. “Most worrisome is the fact that a registered charity committed to the global conservation of lions, LionAid, noted of late that we have [only] about 34 lions remaining in Nigeria,” with a high likelihood that “lions shall become extinct [in Nigeria] on or before the year 2023, unless some drastic measures are taken by the Nigerian citizenry and government at all tiers.”
Demands apology & replacement
Ogbe demanded “an unreserved apology to the Nigerian public over the killing of the lion,” to be “be published in a national daily [newspaper] within a period of thirty days from the date of the receipt of this letter, with a promise to do all within your powers in ensuring that the ugly incident which gave rise to this demand does not reoccur in the nearest future. May I also request of the Government of Plateau State of Nigeria,” Ogbe continued, “to source for a replacement of the killed lion, within a period of sixty days from the date of the receipt of this letter.
“Should the Government of Plateau State of Nigeria fail to do as I have most humbly requested,” Ogbe finished, “I shall activate and exhaust the plethora of legal options at my disposal which shall include but not limited to commencing an action in court in asserting the right of Nigerians to wildlife which forms part of the Nigerian environment as guaranteed under article 24 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.”
Ogbe was in the headlines twice in 2015: in March for winning 500,000 Naira (the Nigerian national currency) in a civil liberties case, and in August for enduring a severe beating by police after refusing to pay a bribe to pass an unauthorized roadblock.
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