The killing of six lions by Masaai ‘warriors’ in Ilkeek-Lemedung’i village in the Nairobi area of Kitengela should not and need not have happened but whilst some of those who took part in the killings with their spears and rungus are wanted for questioning by the police, the local community are not really to blame, says the Kenya Forum, it is the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) who have questions to answer.
What really happened in the early hours of Wednesday morning is somewhat confused in what has been dubbed as ‘Operation Linda Ng’ombe’, which in English translated to ‘Operation Protect the Cows’.
According to The Star newspaper, the six lions strayed from the nearby Nairobi National Park and killed 13 sheep and goats. The Daily Nation newspaper reported 28 sheep and goats killed by then lions while The Standard gave a figure of only six goats and sheep.
The report on the arrival time of KWS warders was also conflicting. According to The Star, three armed KWS warders arrived at the scene at about 1am without tranquilizer dart guns after being alerted by the elders who were appealing to the young men not to kill the lions.
The Daily Nationreported the arrival time of the three warders was at 3am. According to The Standard, the residents claimed to have alerted KWS about the lions but the warders did not arrive until the morning.
The number of ‘warriors’ involved in the attacks also varies from account to account. About 100 young men armed with spears and rungus responded and surrounded the lions according to The Star but the Daily Nation gave a figure of about 50 young men involved.
6.00am was the time the six lions were speared to death if the report by The Standard is anything to go by, after the youths who had surrounded the lions had waited for the KWS wardens for some hours.
Or was it a few minutes after 4.30am? This was the story as report by The Star which said the three KWS warders arrived but with no tranquilizer dart guns and failed to convince the villagers not to kill the animals. The report by the Daily Nation was close to that of The Star, stating the arrival of the KWS warders to be around 4.00am according to their eye witness.
HOW CAN PEOPLE KILL LIONS?
The Nairobi National Park Senior Warden Mark Cheruiyot expressed shock at the slaughter of the lions.
“This is impunity of the highest order perpetuated by greed leaders of the local community. This is cheap politics that is being played here. How can the same people who are the chief beneficiaries of wildlife preservation in Kenya kill lion cubs? They are heartless, greedy and backward. I am not ashamed to say they are heartless leaders who do not see beyond their noses,” said an angry Cheruiyot.
“I had even told them to hold on as I dispatched our veterinary officers to go and dart (sedate) the lions to allow their safe removal from the area into the Nairobi national Park but they ignored my appeal,” said Cheruiyot .
Speaking to the Daily Nation KWS communications manager Paul Udoto said: “KWS dispatched rangers and a veterinary officer to search for the lions. While the search was on, the lions were killed by the mob.”
THE KWS HAS QUESTIONS TO ANSWER
Udoto’s response surely begs the questions, why were they searching for lions that were already surrounded by the people who had called them in the first place? Why couldn’t the KWS officers have just gone directly to the scene?
Forestry and Wildlife Minister Noah Wekesa also condemned the killings and warned the culprits that they face the law. “This is criminal, we are looking for them. I am told they have fled to Tanzania but we will arrest and take them to court,” he warned. Dr Wekesa also asked people living near parks to alert KWS on stray animals instead of killing them.
The Kitengela Elparago Land Owners Association said KWS was not working with the community to protect their livestock. “We have reported several cases about the livestock that are being killed by the beasts but nothing much has been done,” said the Association’s chairman, Mr James ole Turere. The morans (warriors) vowed to kill more lions until the government fenced off the park and compensated them for losses running into millions of shillings.
KWS MULTIPLE WARNINGS OVER MANY MONTHS
The point that Minister Wekesa, KWS communications manager Paul Udoto and Nairobi National Park Senior Warden Mark Cheruiyot seem to have missed is this: to the certain knowledge of this Kenya Forum correspondent, the KWS has received warning after warning for many months about the lions that have escaped from the National Park and that have caused problems from Langatta to Kitengela, and they have failed to take adequate action to solve the problem.
Throughout all those months the lions have not been tranquilised and not returned to the park. The KWS warders could not even find the lions (but the Masaai warriors could).
The local communities have lost countless head of stock on which their livelihood (and culture) depend. Many people have feared to leave their homes at night. The KWS were warned and warned again of the situation but their response has been dilatory at best.
The regrettable result is that six lions, one of Kenya’s most iconic animals, have been killed when they need not have been and Kenya’s image internationally has suffered.
If the KWS had done their job the lions would still be alive. The KWS should look to their own failings and not blame local communities for defending their livestock, their families and their way of life.