The Arusha Times

Issue 00435

September 9 - 15, 2006

issn 0856 - 9135 


King of the jungle in jeopardy

By Valentine Marc Nkwame

A local band once sang, ‘If a Lion roars who dare dance to the tune?’. Some new developments here however reveal that when the Lions roar in game parks and surrounding areas, licenced hunters, poachers and other wild animals’ killers usually dance to the tune, as they anticipate their next massacre.

Lion killings around the Northern Zone’s game parks, are reported to threaten the existence of the world’s most loved ferocious cat species. Reports here have that, at least four lions get killed every month, with between 50 and 60 lions getting shot dead, every year, in the 12 villages surrounding Tarangire National Park.

The Tarangire Warden in charge of Tourism and Customer care, Geoffrey Mkongwe, revealed that the male lions were in fact on the verge of becoming extinct in the conserved area. A study conducted between 2003 and 2005, came up with a report to the effect that there were only 201 Lions at the park and that their number was decreasing at an alarming rate.

A combined effort of licenced killers (Safari hunters) and their illegal counterparts- the poachers, are said to be speeding the annihilation of the Lion species. It is said that an average 60 lions get hunted in 10 local blocks every year. If this goes on, it may be only a matter of three years before the lions become history in Tarangire.

At Lake Manyara National Park, it is reported that for the past five years, an average of 274 poachers get arrested every year and that 67 percent of them are usually caught outside the park. Betrita Looiboki, the Lake Manyara Park conservator, observed that the number of such illegal hunters keep decreasing due to reinforced measures.

Normally, poachers in their shooting sprees hardly target special animals such as Lions, Giraffes, Zebras and Leopards. Other species fall victims to the wild racket, either due to their commercial values or they get killed in self defense.

Usually Lions are the undisputed kings of the jungle, but this title is usually subject to the appearance of the Maasai Morans (Warriors) in the wilderness. Some local tradition, such as when the local Maasai youths are required to kill lions in order to prove their manhood, is said to be another factor which further contributes towards reducing the number of lions.

Experts’ reports also point a finger to mother nature. Being at the top of the food chain, means, lions must constantly work extra hard, in order to retain their balance on this rather tricky survival scale in the wilderness, where overgrazing, droughts, environment degradation and invasion of human activities, normally trigger mass migration of other species of animals in search of greener pastures.

Lions never migrate but the animals that provide dinner materials for the Jungle King usually do and as the result, malnourishment makes the Jungle Kings vulnerable to other contributing factors as diseases.

At Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Lions were reported to face another major killer, the deadly biting flies Stomoxys calcitrans, which normally emerge after rainy seasons. In 2001 for instance at least six lions (out of a population of 68) died due to constant bites from blood sucking flies. Usually the cats get traumatized, spending all their time trying to get away from the flies thus never having chance to feed.

The plague caused by Stomoxys calcitrans, have been a recurring phenomenon. Henry Fosbrooke, former conservator with the Ngorongoro Conservation Area between 1961 and 1962, reported an outbreak of the flies which lasted for more than six months and by May 1962 the crater had switched from heaven to hell for the lions.

Most lions became emaciated and covered with festering sores, seeking shelter by either climbing trees or hiding in hyena burrows, they eventually became so ill and no longer able to hunt. After the epidemic, Fosbrooke concluded that, the then population of 70 lions in Ngorongoro, got reduced to about ten.

The Crater population according to recent studies, may have become unusually vulnerable to infectious diseases among animal species in recent years, owing to its close proximity to a growing human population and a history of close inbreeding, leading to genetic vulnerabilities.





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