The Pet Tree House - Where Pets Are Family Too : Lioness Made Famous in BBC’s Long-Running Big Cat Diary Documentary Series Has Been Poisoned The Pet Tree House - Where Pets Are Family Too : Lioness Made Famous in BBC’s Long-Running Big Cat Diary Documentary Series Has Been Poisoned

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Lioness Made Famous in BBC’s Long-Running Big Cat Diary Documentary Series Has Been Poisoned


Members of Kenya’s Marsh lion pride, made famous in BBC’s long-running Big Cat Diary documentary series, have reportedly been poisoned after eating a cow carcass in the Masai Mara Reserve.

So far, two lions have died—a lioness named Bibi and an unidentified lion, which was found in the field dead, fed on by scavengers. Another female named Sienna has been missing since Governor’s Camp manager Patrick Reynolds discovered the animals acting strange Sunday morning.

On Tuesday, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust posted on its Facebook page that an autopsy of Bibi found that traces of an insecticide had been used to poison the pride. The wildlife trust’s mobile veterinary unit is treating five other lions in the pride with antidotes for the poison, and reported that six white vultures were found dead near the location of the poisoned cow carcass.

The rest of the 13-member lion pride has been accounted for and remains under 24-hour watch by veterinarians and park rangers, according to Paula Kahumbu of the conservation group Wildlife Direct.
  
While it remains unclear who is responsible for the attacks, cattle herders who allow their cows to graze on grasses in the Masai Mara reserve are suspects. Lions can prey on the cows the herders bring on the land, and conflicts are becoming more frequent. A 2009 study in the Journal of Zoology found that illegal cattle grazing on protected land in Kenya’s Mara region has increased more than 1,100 percent since 1970.

On Tuesday, Kenyan Wildlife Service officials charged two men with poisoning the lions. If convicted, the men could face up to $200,000 in fines or life in jail.

“Kenya has never before charged a person with poisoning wildlife even though it is a frequent crime that is devastating populations of vultures lions and other predators,” Kahumbu said in a statement. “This is sending a shock wave of fear through the criminal networks.”

Conservationist and certified wildlife veterinarian Hayley Adams said the poisoning of the famous Marsh lion pride will help raise awareness of long-standing conflict issues between humans and Africa’s wildlife that’s been quietly escalating in recent years.

“Pastoralists have been retaliating with spears against lions that predate on their livestock, and now there have been growing instances of poisoning as it becomes easier to access,” said Adams, who has been working in East Africa for more than 20 years. “The problem will most likely get worse before it gets better.”

And when poachers or ranchers use poison, it affects more than just the animal they are targeting, it can affect an ecosystem. Animals not targeted, such as the vultures in this case, can end up dead.

Adams’ foundation works with local communities on health issues and also with wildlife conservation efforts.

“The educational angle we can take is getting the communities to understand that poisoning the animals can end up hurting themselves,” Adams said. “It can get in other species, which hurts ecotourism in the region, and it can get in the water supply.”

One option Masai Mara Reserve officials could look into to reduce lion-cow conflict would be to allow herders to graze cattle in the preserve during daylight hours, and ban cattle grazing at night. That system has been beneficial in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Conservation Area, south of the Masai Mara, to limit herders’ run-ins with lions.

“The way it is now, herders are bringing their cattle there under cover of night, when lions are more likely to hunt, because it’s illegal,” Adams said. “It’s a difficult situation, both for the lions, and the communities.”
  
                                                 Bibi with her lion cubs

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