February 11, 2010

Kenyan Gamers Round Up Lion Prey

On Wednesday, Kenyan gamers started to round up thousands of zebras to move to a reserve where lions are attacking livestock due to a lack of prey.

The nationwide operation is due to last until the end of the month in what will go down as one of Africa's biggest animal translocations so far.  The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) launched the operation in Soysambu conservancy.

Rangers in helicopters started rounding up galloping zebras into a large V-shaped tarpaulin enclosure after daybreak.

The animals at the smaller end of the enclosure were allowed through into an adjoining pen, and from there they were put onto trucks.  Each truck carried two dozen zebras.

KWS' goal is to move about 7,000 animals, 4,000 of which will be zebras and the other 3,000 will be wildebeest.  At least 88 zebras were captured on Wednesday.

About 1,000 animals will come from Soysambu, which is near a private conservancy owned by Delamere Estates.  The rest will be taken from other reserves.

KWS officials said the operation costs $1.3 million and will be carried out in four phases, while running through February 28.

The plan is to restock Amboseli with natural prey so that hyenas and lions will stop attacking livestock in homes and around the park.

"Some herders lost as high as 80 percent of their stock due to the drought and the few that were remaining were attacked by hyenas and lions and that angered the local community," KWS spokesman Paul Udoto told AFP.

"One of the quick remedies is for KWS to restock the park. It is one way of restoring the balance between carnivores and herbivores in the park as well as reducing the lion and hyena attacks on livestock," he said.

A scientist with KWS, Charles Musyoki, said that Amboseli park is "a dry season feeding refuge for herbivores" where animals jostle around water holes and patches of pasture then leave when rainfall resumes in the regions they migrated from.

However, last year the animals did not move out of the park due to the prolonged dry spell, and many of them died.

"We lost significant numbers of wildebeests and zebras. Over 60 percent of zebras and wildebeests were lost in that ecosystem," Musyoki said.

"The deaths created an imbalance in the number of carnivores and herbivores in the park resulting in a shortage of the lions' and hyenas' normal food," spokesman Udoto said.

The predators turned to preying on domestic animals as a result.

"It is expected that the restocking will restore the balance of animals within the park and reduce the lion and hyena attacks on livestock," Udoto said.

KWS said Kenya was losing 100 lions a year as cattle herders killed them in retaliation for attacks on their livestock.

Habitat destruction, disease and the rising human population have also helped play a role in the killing of animals in the past seven years. 

Last year had one of the worst droughts in years across eastern Africa.

In 2005, Kenya had its last massive animal transfer, which took 400 elephants from an over-crowded coastal reserve to a vast inland park.  This had to be stopped because of a drought that threatened their survival in their new home.

At the time it was dubbed "the single largest translocation of animals ever undertaken since Noah's Ark."

Kenya's top foreign currency earner is wildlife, and it is still recovering from the ravages of the violence that broke out following the disputed December 2007 elections.


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