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Eco@Africa

Tracking lions, saving lives

Nairobi National Park is home to 36 lions. If they stray from the park, human lives are threatened – and those of lions too. Now, radio collars help rangers step in before they wander into trouble.

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Tracking lions, saving lives

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has partnered with the Kenyan Wildlife Service to provide radio collars to track lions living in Nairobi National Park. We asked Steve Njumbi, head of programs at IFAW’s East Africa office why this became necessary, and what the future hold for Nairobi’s lions.

Eco@Africa: It sounds incongruous – a national park with a capital city in its name. What tensions does this proximity to people cause?

Steve Njumbi: The Nairobi National Park is the only wildlife park in a city in the world, making it a coveted resource and much-loved destination for both local and international tourists. Due to its proximity to human settlements, which are growing rapidly, the wildlife is bound to come into conflict with people.

Nairobi National Park Lion Collaring (IFAW/Julia Cumes)

A lion fitted with a radio collar in Nairobi

Even if most of the Park is fenced, the area to the south bordering Mbagathi River is not fenced. During the wet season, when there is plenty of green pasture for grazing animals, they leave the park using this unfenced section. The lions then follow the grazing wildlife, which are their food source, and it is at these times that the lions get into conflict with humans – and more so cattle, which are easy prey. This migration is what unfortunately led to a widely publicized incident where one of the lions –Mohawk – had to be put down to protect the crowd of people that had formed around it. During the dry season, wildlife return to the national park due to the watering holes found there.What was the impact of losing one of the park’s lions?

Losing one lion is a great loss to the Nairobi National Park particularly when the loss is that of a mature male. There are only three adult males in the park and losing one can be detrimental to the continuity and genetic diversity of the prides in the park.

How do radio collars help keep the lions out of trouble - and the human population safe?

The collars are used to monitor the movements of the lions within and outside the park. Should the collared lions wander too close to human settlements, rangers can then be deployed to pre-empt interaction or conflict with humans and cattle.

Kenia Ranger erschießt entlaufenen Löwen (Getty Images/AFP/Stringer)

A ranger is forced to shoot a lion that had strayed from Nairobi National Park last year

What are the prospects for this small population of lions - do you see it's numbers expanding in the future?

The park is small in comparison to other parks and reserves, just 117 square kilometres. Approximately 35 to 40 lions is the comfortable carrying capacity with the current distribution of adult males, females, sub-adults and cubs. Should the population rise beyond this number, there tends to be an increase in deaths, mainly through fights between adult males over territory, and due to conflict with humans when deposed males get too close to humans and domestic cattle.

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