By Wolfgang H. Thome
Kenya’s conservation fraternity will be waking up this Monday morning to emerging news that four lions - a male adult, a female adult and two cubs - were poisoned on the Mramba Ranch near Mwatate, Taita Taveta, a location in between the Tsavo West National Park and the Taita Hills Game Sanctuary.
The news also came as a shock to many area residents who had turned some of their land into a community game sanctuary, hoping to attract tourist visitors who pay entrance fees to see game including lions but who now only see exhausted, overgrazed land filled with cattle.
The incident highlights the plight of wildlife, more and more hemmed into protected areas by fences, making their age-old migratory patterns impossible when they followed the rains in search of pastures, and subsequently elephant poaching in this part of the country has also been on the increase.
A game census carried out earlier in the year showed a marked decline in elephant populations covering the Taita/Taveta area, the Tsavo West National Park extending into this side, the Taita Hills private game sanctuary, and across the border the Mkomanzi National Park in Tanzania, and there is now fear that if besides the prized elephants, lions are now also targeted, albeit for other reasons, there will soon be little left for tourists to see, at a time when finally a new tarmac road is under construction to link the town of Voi via Taveta with Moshi and Arusha. This key road is thought to provide a shot in the arm of the tourism sectors on both sides of the border, making access to each other’s parks easier and attracting more cross-border tourism, but if the game is poached and poisoned, what reasons then will tourists have to come and visit, apart from World War I sites which themselves are falling into ever greater disrepair as funds are lacking to preserve some of the key battle locations.
Said the Nairobi-based source when passing the information: “I know our law enforcement has a lot of problems in keeping Kenyans safe, and they are obviously not doing too well. But this has diverted resources from other important areas, and the result is that some people can poison lions, like in this case, with almost impunity. The mess we are in is bad for every Kenyan and worse for our wildlife.”
From the same Nairobi-based source it was learned that no arrests had been made by last weekend, leaving a range of open questions as to Kenya Wildlife Service’s surveillance and intelligence gathering abilities which could either have prevented the lions from being killed or else led to the prompt arrest of suspects.