May 18

A wave of lion poisonings has been sweeping Kenya, placing the big cats at risk of becoming extinct in the country within a few years.

Photo of two African lions

Poisoning “greatest threat”

According to the Kenya Wildlife Service, poisoning is the greatest threat to predators and scavenging birds in the country.

With at least 8 lions killed by poisoning in recent weeks and less than 2,000 lions remaining in Kenya, conservationists warn that Kenya’s lion population is in a precarious position and will continue to rapidly decline if nothing is done to combat the growing use of poison to kill the animals.

Human-lion conflict leading to retaliatory killings

Retaliatory killings are possibly the most common reason behind the poisonings of large predators in Kenya, with the local human population embroiled in conflict with lions over their attacks on domestic cattle.

In the latest incident, two lionesses and a young male were killed by a local cattle herder who admitted he had used pesticides to poison the lions. The Kenya Wildlife Service arrested the man, who showed investigators a container with the remains of the poison he had used to lace a cow carcass on which the lions fed. Although the evidence was presented to the police, the man was later released, with sources suggesting that a local politician intervened.

Photo of an African lioness

Carbofuran – a deadly and dangerous pesticide

It is suspected that the poison used in such attacks is likely a form of carbofuran, a deadly pesticide commonly used in the horticultural industry.

Carbofuran is the active ingredient in pesticides which are primarily used to control insects in a wide variety of field crops, including potatoes, corn and soybeans. However, its effectiveness as a neurotoxin which is deadly to birds, fish, and other vertebrates, means that it has been widely adopted as a means of poisoning lions, leopards and other large predators.

The European Union and the USA have banned the use of carbofuran due to its environmental impacts and its effect on wildlife. Now, Kenyan conservationists are calling on the Ministry of Agriculture to follow suit. Conservationists in the USA have conducted an online petition and gathered more than 80,000 signatures, urging the Kenyan Government to introduce a ban on the deadly pesticide.

Photo of an immature male African lion

Slaughter of Kenyan national heritage

The cases of lion poisonings in Kenya have become so serious that Dr Richard Leakey, the chairman of conservation charity WildlifeDirect, has again called for the government to take action.

The future of tourism in Kenya is at risk if dangerous pesticides like Carbofuran (sold locally as Furadan) remain on the market. Time and again, we’ve seen these substances used to slaughter our national heritage and destroy one of our greatest economic assets. Yet the authorities continually fail to follow up cases of abuse and prosecute the culprits. The Kenyan government must show that it is serious and take swift action to ban deadly pesticides like Furadan and enforce the law.

If we fail to put a stop to poisonings, our lions could go extinct in a matter of years; a catastrophic loss for anyone who cares about our national heritage, but also a devastating blow to the tourism industry that currently brings in hundreds of millions of dollars to our economy. ”

Find out more about the charity WildlifeDirect and its campaign against wildlife poisoning.

Read more about lions on ARKive.

Helen Roddis, ARKive Species Text Author