Kenya’s lions could be extinct in the next two decades. The African lion population has declined by 30-50% in the past 20 years and lions have disappeared from at least 83% of their historical range in Africa. This reduction in lion numbers is mainly due to habitat loss and conflict with humans, primarily over livestock depredation. Kenya’s lion population is now estimated at less than 2,000 individuals.
Lion presence in an area is considered an indicator of its wild and natural integrity. Soysambu is naturally becoming an important conservation area. The migration from a human populated livestock ranch to a wildlife populated conservation area integrating a dual land use system has many challenges.
Rapid development during the first decade of the 21st century led to loss of wildlife habitat in the surrounding area. Soysambu became a refuge for both predator and prey species. In early 2007 Soysambu Conservancy Limited was established to manage the land for conservation.
Lions and hyenas extirpated at Soysambu from 1906-1909 to make way for the livestock industry. When lions arrived in 2014, the livestock enclosures were either made of thorns or posts with a few stands of wire. Neither was sufficient to deter predators.
In the past lions have visited or passed through Soysambu but in June 2014 two lionesses arrived and within the year had six cubs, establishing a pride.
The addition of the lions could be seen as a means to balance the eco system and reduce the large numbers of zebra that continue to compete with domestic species for grazing and water. Until now, with the return of lions, the zebra had no predators.
Initially the decision was made to move the lions back to Lake Nakuru National Park since measures were not in place to deter predation on livestock. If these lions were removed only more would arrive and the same situation would occur again.
With 7000 head of cattle a solution needed to be found. Quickly! This began the process of raising the funds to build moveable predator proof enclosures (Bomas).
In addition to the new bomas, we began at finding ways to decrease the incidences of human–wildlife conflict.
First of all, we began placing GPS/GSM collars on the first two lioness, which gave us an insight into their movements. We added a laptop at the operations desk. During the night, when the lions are active, the security team could be alerted if a collared lion was approaching the vicinity of a boma.
It took several months for the two lionesses to be collared in February 2016. By tracking them were able to monitor their movements and notify the livestock department. This information also gives us an insight as to their movements over a period of time.
In addition to the monitoring, we began the process of making ID’s for each individual lion.
The first two lionesses, Flir and Valentine, had six cubs which are now three years old. In 2018, they are now three years old and have cubs. In 2017, both Flir and Valentine had another litter – five males and one female.
We are partnering with Savannah Tracking and KWS , for the “Lion Shield” pilot project to help deter attacks on both the new moveable predator proof bomas and the static post and wire bomas.
The project consist of installing solar powered alarms with flashing lights at each boma. When a collared lion approaches the boma the alarm is activated and the lion is scared away.
Since not all the lions are collared we now have trigger devices which the night herdsman can use to activate the alarm if he hears the cattle stirring. It could be any predator looking for a meal of Delamere’s best beef.
For this project to work and enough data is collected, some of the lion population need to have collars deployed on one lion in each group. Research has shown that the lions don’t mind the collars and they are unaware that they are being tracked.
When the lion is darted by the Kenya Wildlife Service Vet and Team, valuable data is collected.
In order to manage the population of lions in a semi closed ecosystem some interventions are needed such as translocations.
One thing is certain, in an ever increasing landscape of population growth and loss of the lions natural habitat in order to save the African lion population from death and poisoning we need to educate the public and be innovative in reaching solutions.