11 lions killed in a week in Kenya as climate-linked human-wildlife conflicts escalate 

Climate change, changing land use and human, livestock and wildlife population increase are major drivers 

By Tony Malesi
Published: Wednesday 17 May 2023
Photo: iStock

Cases of climate-related human-wildlife conflicts are on the rise in Kenya, according to officials. Last week alone, 11 lions were killed by farmers in a retaliatory attack, following a night raid that resulted in the loss of livestock.

While talking to the local press after the incident, herders expressed displeasure at how wild animals have of late been straying into human settlements, causing destruction. They accused the concerned government agencies of responding late or not at all, leading to losses.

“Enough is enough. For some time now wild animals have been causing mayhem in homes, only for officials to arrive late after losses. The government must now henceforth be proactive and put measures in place to safeguard farms and livestock,” said Benson Lenku, a herder from Kajiado County, a region with one of Kenya's highest reported cases of human-wildlife conflicts. 

The ministries of environment and tourism responded, warning locals from killing wild animals. In a joint statement with the Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS), the authorities promised to work with locals to find lasting solutions.

“We are dedicated and promise to safeguard Kenya’s wildlife and ensure that wildlife remains an integral part of our country’s heritage. We encourage everyone to work with us to create a peaceful co-existence between humans and wildlife,” the KWS statement read in part.

Climate change, changing land use and human, livestock and wildlife population increase are the major drivers of spiraling human-wildlife conflicts in Kenya, according to multiple studies. 

Human-wildlife conflicts are rampant in the drylands of five regions, including Narok, Taita-Taveta, Lamu, Kajiado and Laikipia, a 2022 report on Human-Wildlife Conflict Compensation Schemes by the Ministry of Tourism showed.

“Severe drought being experienced across the Horn of Africa, where communities, wildlife and livestock share landscapes, has worsened the situation,” read the report in part.

The three most common conflict types include destruction of crops (50 per cent), attacks on humans (27.3 per cent) and livestock depredation (17.6 per cent). The most destructive animals include elephants, leopards and lions. 

Elephants account for the most significant share of crop destruction (46 per cent), while lions (63 per cent) kill most cattle. Leopards and hyenas are responsible for the highest number of attacks on sheep and goats (44 per cent) and (37 per cent) respectively.

Efforts to reduce human-wildlife conflicts in Kenya must be ramped up and fully involve local communities for peaceful coexistence, according to experts. Conservationists and other stakeholders believe the retaliatory killings signal the rising cases of human-wildlife conflicts, despite ongoing efforts to curb the menace.

Experts, who acknowledge it’s impossible to completely eradicate the conflicts, are calling for ramping up mitigation efforts for peaceful human-wildlife coexistence.

Professor Fredrick Segor, a conservation expert, is calling for ramping up efforts to reduce the conflict through the use of technology like predator lights, among other efforts.

“There must be doubled efforts to reduce these incidences now that they keep rising with increase in human and wildlife population and factors such as climate change. Yes, there are some efforts but they must be ramped up. We need more predator lights installed in homesteads and farms, neighbouring parks, conservancies and reserves,” he said.

Segor is also rooting for the initiation of more water projects to reduce the distances women travel looking for water and leave natural sources like rivers, streams, caves and gorges for wildlife.

“As we reduce possibilities of humans encroaching wildlife sanctuaries and migratory corridors, there must also be efforts to ensure wildlife doesn’t roam freely by restricting them in protected areas,” said Segor.

Segor has also called for speedy and adequate compensation to victims as a sign of compassion to reduce the retaliatory killing of wildlife.

Non-governmental conservation organisations have joined the calls for peaceful coexistence of humans and wildlife. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Kenya described the killing as unprecedented. WWF called for an intervention, warning that Kenya was at risk of extinction of key species such as lions if the conflicts persist.

According to KWS, the African lion population has declined by 43 per cent in the last 20 years and lions now occupy only 8 per cent of their historical range in Africa. The estimated number of lions across Africa is 20,000. 

In Kenya, the national population is now less than 2,500 lions, according to Kenya’s latest wildlife census conducted by the Ministry of Tourism in conjunction with KWS. This reduction in lion numbers is primarily due to habitat loss and conflict with humans, typically when lions kill people’s livestock.

WWF’s Biodiversity, Research and Innovation Manager Yussuf Wato said the ongoing human-lion conflicts are reaching unprecedented levels. 

“Unless we act urgently and decisively, we could be facing an extinction of lions in Kenya. Our human-wildlife conflict interventions and mitigation measures need a radical shift and should be urgently scaled up,” Wato said.

As the climate changes and food and water sources get scarce, there must be concerted efforts to increase physical barriers to keep animals in protected areas, according to Martin Mulama, a manager at WWF-Kenya.

“We have to double our efforts and put up physical barriers such as electric fences and predator-proof habitats for livestock. This will lessen the conflicts by reduction of the losses incurred by humans. WWF-Kenya has embarked on a programme to issue predator lights and predator-proof habitats for livestock in the affected communities,” said Mulama.

He added that stakeholders must also construct sufficient water pans for wildlife to reduce contact between wild animals, livestock and humans.

 “We must have conservation priorities that fully involve local communities within the biodiversity. Going forward, we must also be radical, get more innovative and switch conservation tactics, especially in relation to the  vagaries of extreme climate change,” said Mulama.

Human-wildlife conflicts are among some of the main threats to the long-term survival of certain emblematic species, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) recently warned in a report.

The killing of 11 lions in one week is already bad news to the ears of conservationists, but the actual state of affairs could be worse if unreported cases were to be included.

Wildlife is already facing enough threats like loss of habitat through deforestation, effects of climate change, illegal wildlife trade. Escalation of human-wildlife conflict will only worsen the situation, according to experts.

While calling for peaceful human-wildlife coexistence, the UNEP recently said in a report that for the world to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, human-wildlife conflict must be included in the implementation plans of UN-mandated sustainable development goals.

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