Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A tribute to the poisoned lions of Mara

Bibi lioness tribute
Bibi lioness tribute
It was a turbulent week as news broke last week of a poisoning incident in the world famous Maasai Mara National Reserve.

After reports that a well-known lion pride took down four cows, a retaliatory attack ensued and soon the mother of the pride fell disgracefully to poisoning.

The first to succumb was Bibi, the 17-year-old female. Alan, a young male, followed soon after, when he fell victim to a secondary attack by buffalo while still weak and recovering from the poisoning. Finally, Siena went missing and was later declared dead after remnants of lion skin and bones were found at the site of a hyena’s feast.

The incident has not gone unnoticed. Outburst was all over social and mainstream media over the loss of these lions, whose lives had been documented in the BBC TV series, Big Cat Diary.
The Kenyan authorities too have not taken the matter lightly.

Two suspects were charged on Tuesday afternoon following the incident, and could face fines of up to Sh20 million or life imprisonment if found guilty of threatening the life of an endangered species. The office of director of public prosecutions requested 14 days to gather evidence. As days pass by, other critically endangered species began to succumb to the effects of the deadly poison. As of yesterday, three lions and 11 vultures have been confirmed dead, with the mortality expected to rise.

No sooner had KWS confirmed this, than news broke from Kajiado of another poisoning incident. This time, Mbalueni, a young lioness and her two small cubs, had been found dead in Mukururo, just two kilometres from Chyulu Hills National Park.

Losing six lions in less than six days is cause for alarm.

With only about 2,000 lions remaining in the country, the incident could have adverse effects on tourism. Many of the social media posts have targetted the newly appointed Cabinet Secretary for Tourism Najib Balala, in the hope of getting his attention.

As many continue to express their grief and shock at the incident, we have shared some here in a tribute to these once iconic animals, in the hope that we have not seen the last of our lions.

Kenya-based authors and wildlife photographers Jonathan and Angie Scott say this was a disaster waiting to happen. Jonathan has presented a number of popular TV series for the BBC.

“You cannot expect not to have incidents like this if cattle continue to encroach on lion territory within the Reserve. That is not meant to happen. The Marsh Pride deserve better. If we cannot protect iconic predators like these that have helped publicise the wonders of the Masai Mara and Kenya to millions of people worldwide who have watched Big Cat Diary then we need to ask the uncomfortable questions as why this has been allowed to happen.

“We should not blame the Mara or Kenya per se - it is a failure on the part of the administration at both local and national level. Kenya needs tourism - it pays the bill for protecting our wilderness areas and provides employment to hundreds of thousands of Kenyans and generates millions of dollars each year for Narok County. It is false economy not to protect the very thing that is so evidently a source of aesthetic and economic benefits to us all. The Governor of Narok County, the Honorable Samuel Ole Tunai, has promised to address these same issues. His vision is to help ensure that the Masai Mara becomes a world class tourism destination. Both the Governor and Narok County have been working on this initiative since the Governor convened a Masai Mara Stakeholders Meeting in Nairobi in Sept 2015. A progress report would go a long way to reassuring all of us that the poisoning of members of the Marsh Pride will not have been in vain.

“In fact it should be the catalyst for change. If that is the case then we will have turned a significant corner in addressing the complex issues that need to be resolved if wildlife and local communities are to prosper side by side,” Jonathan and Angie wrote.

Dame Daphne Sheldrick calls the deaths catastrophic because the pride has helped publicise the Mara
“Tourism is extremely important economically to Kenya, providing employment to thousands of countrymen. Working together with the Kenya Wildlife Service, a David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust funded Mobile Veterinary Unit (thanks to an annual generous grant from the Minara Foundation), has on three occasions saved the lioness Sienna’s life from horrendous life threatening injuries inflicted by a buffalo and a fight with another lion respectively.

“Her story has been avidly followed by millions of concerned people across the globe and that she overcame such life threatening odds just to suffer an undignified and excruciating end through poisoning by humans inside the Mara National Reserve is a shameful disaster.

“Let the death of three iconic lions of the Marsh pride not be in vain but galvanise the public to strive to enact measures in order to save this priceless Wonder of the World and its wild denizens over which Kenya has custodianship and a duty to preserve and protect for the future generations of humankind generally.

“We must all work towards ensuring that such a shameful tragedy never happens again to blemish the reputation of this country,” she wrote.


After the Mara killings, thousands of people went on social media in protest, and to also mourn the fallen lions and vultures. Here are a few of the comments.

“Dear Bibi,
Had you lived another three months, we would have celebrated your 18th birthday. Still you remain our heroine. At 17 years, you were most likely the oldest lioness in Kenya! You broke a record in June this year when you gave birth to a single cub at that golden age of 17 years.
If we can compare you to a human woman, it’s like giving birth at the age of 100 years!
Amazing lady... Rest In Peace Mama.”
 – Onesmus Irungu, Rekero Camp Mara

“Fallen lions, our fellow humans did it, they took your lives away.
I feel ashamed and been wondering what to do to reverse this. The world mourns you, the plains will be lonely without you and a grave danger we face now as ecosystems can’t survive without key species like lions and elephants, greed drives humanity.
Your famous pride has lost its most iconic members, Bibi, Siena and the young lad Alan plus another unidentified lion. Fly free, we shall forever miss you.
RIP fallen Kings and queens of the Maasai Steppe.”
– Ibrah Kantet, Eseriani Wildlife Association.

“When you kill all lions and other wild animals, you are capable of killing human beings. Stop killing our lions! Lemaasai entapal eyarata oong’uesi! (My fellow Maasai, stop killing wildlife!)”
– Thomas Lekanayia, Tony Kasaine, Robert Kasaine & Robert Payiai.

“As said by Sir Najib Balala, ‘Kenya is a place of very exciting tourism’, mainly for wildlife safari. But as a wildlife lover, I ask me seriously the question of whether my next stay in Africa will be the 10th in Kenya, precisely in Maasai-Mara, or will be in another country who take care of its wildlife.

Next Christmas will be my 9th stay in the Maasai-Mara. I already spent countless hours watching the famous marsh pride of lions during my previous stays here. But after what happened this last week, where herders tried to poison the famous Marsh Pride (more than 15 lions) by leaving in the reserve a carcass poisoned with pesticide, I will seriously think before coming back. The situation is precarious since several years, the cows penetrate illegally by day and by night to graze in the reserve. In few years, many members of the Marsh pride of lions have been killed by Maasai herders. (Lioness Red and her three cubs poisoned in 2009, lioness Lispy speared in 2011, lioness White-Eye and her sub-adult son disappeared in 2012, one young female and one young males were speared in March/April 2014. In 2014 too, the very young lioness Kabibi was speared and rescued by the KWS/DSWT, and one of the males of the pride was shot by a gun and rescued by the KWS/DSWT again). And seven days ago, more than 10 lions were poisoned. Thanks to the rapid intervention of the KWS and DSWT, “only” three died (two days of painful spasms), Bibi the older lioness of the pride, the dominant female Siena, and a young one too weak after his poisoning to escape to buffaloes. And I do not add to the picture the dead vultures, hyenas and jackals…… The famous Marsh pride is decimated year after year by herders who drive their cows to graze illegally in the reserve. There are laws, and they should be applied and respected. So, I am asking me if it deserves that I use my hardly earned money to come in a place who has nothing to care of its wildlife, where I see cows by day (I have countless pictures of herds IN the Mara, chasing cheetahs they disturb for example), some kind of ruminants we also have in France by the way, and where I fell asleep in my tent hearing the bells of the herds of cows. And even after the tragedy of last week, cattle continues to invade the reserve by day and by night. The reserve authorities have to decide what they do prefer: a Mara with tourists, or a Mara with cows (until it became a dusty place where nothing will be able to graze)….. Otherwise, I am afraid that foreign tourists will stop to come to your country because you’re not anymore an active base of exciting tourism, while some other countries still are. “
- S. Gandrille, Paris, France.

“If I want to see cows, I can see cows for free on a five minute walk from my house. More and more pictures are being shared, about herders invading these reserves and national parks with their livestock. I see conservationists saying, please don’t stay away because the existence of our wildlife depends on tourism. While I’m like, do you honestly expect people to pay thousands and thousands of Euros to see herders with their livestock? If Kenya wants to save it’s tourist industry, a lot will have to change, because in all honesty, the only reason people come to visit Kenya is to go on a safari and witness these beautiful Wild creatures not cows or goats.”
- Ingrid Sermeus, Belgium

“Human-wildlife issues is a complex issue, we people, and I mean all of us, need the heart of a lion to solve it. We need to start with honest and open dialogue where everyone can take part, we owe these lionesses and their offspring’s as much as we do our own future generations.”
- Anna Martinsson, United Kingdom

“There won’t be any tourist s going to Mara if you don’t sort out the Maasai Mara Reserve , I have personally visited the Maasai Mara six times in the past four years . I am by no means rich, I work hard all year so that I can go see the Mara & its wildlife. Why should us tourists pay many dollars just to see cows?” - Teresa Dwyer, USA

“It is our greed as human that drives us into the natural habitat of the wildlife. We block there migratory corridors, turn their hunting grounds into grazing and agricultural fields forcing them to move continuously, today they have found themselves in the centre of people who were once their close friends but have today become their enemies. I rest my case by wishing that justice shall prevail to the voiceless creatures of the planet Earth.”
- David Kisiara, Kenya.

“I’ve been following the life stories of this pride of lions for years. Sadly, I myself never got to see them. It seems every day more and more magnificent animals are killed, be they lions, elephants, rhino or others. Here in the USA the bears and wolves are mercilessly slaughtered. I thought trophy hunters were the biggest threat to lions.
It saddens me that those who know the lions best and have lived with them for centuries could turn against them. I always dreamt of seeing the beautiful Maasai people and the famous lions of the Maasai Mara. Now it’s too late, and very sad indeed.
I don’t know the answer of how to get everyone to value lions as much as we do. I don’t know anything, I live in the USA. But I do know if something doesn’t change, there will be no lions left.”
 - Sarah LaRocca


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