The continent of Africa is known for its diverse wildlife, and among this wildlife roam the kings of the jungle – the lions. However, the lion population in Africa has declined by more than 40 percent in the last two decades, according to the African Wildlife Foundation.
On the 19th of February 2016, six lions caused panic on the streets of Nairobi after escaping from the Nairobi National Wildlife Park the previous night. It wasn’t clear what path they took to sneak out of the park and enter residential areas. The lions were first spotted at 4 a.m. Friday near a hospital in Langata, and later near Kibera, Kenya’s largest slum, Wildlife Service spokesman Paul Udoto said. Officials urged vigilance and warned residents to call a toll-free number if they spotted the big cats. The rangers scoured the bush and agricultural land searching for the pride on the loose to return them to the park, but the big cats were later spotted back in the park, having made their own way “home”.
On March 18th, another stray lion clawed and injured a 63-year-old man on Nairobi’s Mombasa Road. The man has since been discharged from hospital, and the lion has been captured safely.
Then, on March 30th, things took a turn for the worse, as Kenyan rangers killed a lion that pounced on a man in a crowd after it escaped the park. The man, who was hospitalized with deep lacerations, had joined hundreds of noisy bystanders surrounding the animal. In order to save lives, as the “last resort”, rangers shot it to death as the animal was considered a “threat to human life” before veterinarians arrived with tranquilizers. The death of Mohawk, a majestic 13-year-old big cat – so named because of the shape of his black mane – sparked an outcry among Kenyans. I am glad I got to see Mohawk several times, but am saddened by the fact that I will not see him again. Did he deserve this brutal, bloody end? Who was at fault? Bansri Joshi, a student in Nairobi, spoke the words that so many witnesses thought, “I expected the rangers to have tranquilizers to protect and disable him not kill him.” The death of an African lion is always a tragedy. Could this have been avoided?
The next morning, a 2½-year-old lion known as Lemek also found his way through the fence. Later, wildlife rangers discovered Lemek’s speared body “under a large thicket beside a dry riverbed” – evidently killed by Maasai tribesmen 12 miles south of Nairobi, the service said in a statement.
Why are lions trying to escape all of a sudden?
There are many factors that may have been contributors to this clash between humans and lions in Nairobi, but is obviously connected to the encroachment of human settlement on lion habitats, and a sharp decrease in their natural prey. The government has also started building a highway through a section of the park, agitating the animals with constant noise, affecting their behavior and leading more big cats to attempt to break free in search of quieter hunting grounds.
But wildlife tourism is also an essential foreign revenue earner for Kenya. Instead of protecting our animals that tourists come to admire, it seems like we are intruding into their habitats and homes. And as we are more powerful with our machine guns and weapons, and always put ourselves first, we will get what we want, but at the expense of possibly losing our animals. Is our own pride worth the deaths of prides of lions?
Kenyan wildlife officials, and many Kenyan citizens, enjoy the fact that Nairobi National Park is the world’s only urban wildlife range, connoting the idea that a satisfactory arrangement has been made between man and animal. But is that still true?