240404 lion poisoning 1

It was a pitiful scene: powerful muscles, large paws, and a regal head, all rendered inert. Golden fur contrasted sharply with the bare, dark earth, and laboured, monotonous breathing was the only indicator that this male lion was still alive.

He lay barely a hundred metres from the carcass he’d fed on the night before. The lions had killed a cow and the cow’s herder had laced it with poison in retaliation, which is illegal in Kenya.

Big Life rangers and our partners at Lion Guardians hurried to the scene and were soon joined by the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust-funded KWS Amboseli vet. He administered treatment immediately and moved the lion to a safer location, but despite everyone’s effort, the lion died that evening.

Lion Guardians tracked the 6 others in this male’s group, who fortunately all seem to be fit and well, and the remainder of the carcass was destroyed to prevent further devastation.

This incident occurred just inside an area called Kaputei, neighbouring Big Life’s core area of operation. It is an area that is unfriendly for wildlife, but animals don’t know that, and without fences they roam freely.

If the lions had killed the cow just 1.4 km south of this spot on Mbirikani Ranch, inside Big Life’s core area, this male would likely still be alive. Why? Because Big Life’s Predator Compensation Fund (PCF) works.

PCF reimburses livestock owners a portion of the value of depredations on the condition that no predators are killed in retaliation.  Since 2015, only one poisoning incident has happened on Mbirikani, and that was done by a Kaputei resident who came onto Mbirikani who’d had a cow killed by lions.  Over the same period, 9 lions have been poisoned in Kaputei ‘next door’.

This comparison is a stark illustration of the impact that conservation interventions can have, but also highlights the challenges in protecting free-roaming wildlife. Amboseli is an open system and animals come and go. What we can do is create a safe zone for predators, so long as we can maintain our PCF coverage.

Please donate and help keep our PCF program funded and predators like lions, leopards, and cheetah protected from retaliation.

And a special thank you to our partners at Lion Guardians, KWS, and Sheldrick Wildlife Trust for their support.

Photo: Josh Clay