Principle Threats

Pressures on land use from increasing human populations leading to continued fragmentation of the remaining suitable habitat coupled with indiscriminate killing in defense of life and livestock and prey base depletion are recognized as being the principle causes for their decline.

An assessment of the threats and potential threats to lions and spotted hyaenas was critical in formulating objectives of the strategy.  Participants from different regions were asked to list threats facing the species’ in their areas to enable formulation of mitigation measures to achieve the species’ conservation objectives…

4.1.2 Human-Lion Conflicts

Both lions and spotted hyaena are becoming extremely rare outside protected areas. Their numbers are threatened by both direct and indirect persecution. These species are threatened directly when they are killed due to threats on human beings and livestock. Indirectly, they are killed when they get into snares set for other species. Poisoning, snaring for ungulates and spearing, all are major threats. Poisoning is perhaps the single greatest threat to carnivores and scavenging birds.

4.1.3 Reduction in wild prey base

Due to human population growth people have encroached into wildlife areas thus reducing the area where wild herbivores range. This coupled with competition for pasture with domestic stock and illegal hunting by the communities has led to reduction in wild prey numbers.

4.1.4 Habitat loss & anthropogenic activity

Habitat loss due to land use changes and human encroachment into areas that were previously occupied exclusively by wild animals is having a major impact on the range size for hyaenas and lions. Recent work has found that anthropogenic activity has significant effects on the behaviour of spotted hyaenas (Boydston et al. 2003; Kolowski et al. 2007)

4.1.5 Disease

Diseases like Canine distemper being the most common disease to affect lions has wiped out many populations and Feline Immunodefi ciency Virus (FIV) infects several species of felines including lions. There has been one epidemic of CDV in lions - the Serengeti in the 1990’s that killed 30% of the lions and an unknown proportion of hyaenas (probably just youngsters) but is the only recorded case. The Serengeti lion population recovered within a few years. FIV does indeed occur at high rates in nearly all lion populations, but there is absolutely no evidence that it does them any harm. Wild carnivores all around the world live with FIV and it has no clinical manifestations. TB (Tuberculosis) has been found in Kruger’s lions, but there is no evidence that it has affected numbers at all. Rabies occurs in hyaenas, but there is only marginal evidence that it affects population numbers, except possibly on a local scale. Thus, disease seems to be a very small conservation issue for lions and hyaenas”

Kenya Wildlife Service (2009) National conservation and management strategy for lion and spotted hyena in Kenya (2009 – 2014). Nairobi, Kenya (pdf)

Carbofuran poisoning:

“Historically, a variety of chemicals including strychnine and various organophosphates have been used and are still used by a small number of commercial ranchers to poison lions. Recently

however, a carbamate insecticide, carbofuran, seems to be one of the most commonly used (Frank et al., 2006). Carbamate pesticides, developed in the 1930s, are neurotoxins and have a relatively high mammalian toxicity (Otieno et al., 2010). Carbofuran is an acetylcholine esterase inhibitor and causes acetylcholine to accumulate at the junction of a nerve cell and the receptor sites. This causes the nerves to fire continuously, leading to tremors, convulsions, and eventually death.

Carbofuran comes in a liquid and granular form, but in Africa the granular form is most commonly used. In eastern lion range States it was readily available and legally sold over the counter and used to kill soil insects and nematodes, which threaten the production of a variety of crops (Otieno et al., 2010).  A few grams of the odorless, tasteless poison can kill an adult lion. A small bottle of carbofuran can kill an entire pride and costs just a few dollars.

According to a report submitted to the Kenyan Parliament, carbofuran was blamed for the deaths of at least 40 lions in 2008 (Kahumbu, 2010). 

The American manufacturer of a carbofuran product called Furadan withdrew it from the markets in Kenyan, Tanzania and Uganda and instituted a buyback program in 2009 (FMC, 2009). However, as recently as January 19, 2011, a lion was suspected to be killed with Furadan on the Tanzania side of the Tanzania-Kenya border; this lion was most likely from Amboseli National Park on the Kenya side of the border (Frank, 2011). One year earlier, a pride of five Amboseli lions was poisoned suspectedly with Furadan on the Kenya side of the border (Frank, 2011). This illustrates that carbofuran and other chemicals, continue to threaten wild lions.”

Place J, Flocken J, Travers W, Waterland S, Telecky T, Kennedy C, Goyenechea A (2011) Petition to list the African Lion (Panthera leo leo) as endangered pursuant to the US Endangered Species Act.  The International Fund for Animal Welfare, The Born Free Foundation, The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International, Defenders of Wildlife (pdf)

Frank L (2011). Use of Furadan to eliminate lions and other carnivores in Kenya. In Place et al. 2011

Frank L, Maclennan S, Hazzah L, Bonham R, Hill T (2006), Lion killing in the Amboseli-Tsavo eco-system, 2001 – 2006, and its implications for Kenya’s lion population.  Nanyuki, Kenya: Living with Lions. (pdf)

Kahumbu P (2010). Evidence for revoking registration of carbofuran in Kenya: Report to the Ministry of Agriculture Task Force on the impact of pesticides on wildlife and the environment in Kenya. Wildlife Direct. (html)

Otieno PO, Lalah JO, Virani M, Jondiko IO, Schramm KW (2010). Carbofuran and its toxic metabolites provide forensic evidence for Furadan exposure in vultures (Gyps africanus) in Kenya. Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, 84, 536–544 (pdf).

Trade in Lions

The hunting of lions is prohibited in Kenya

Number of wild source lions estimated in international trade, 1999-2008:             10
Average annual wild source trade as percent of population size*:                           < 1%
* Used average of Chardonnet (2002) and Bauer & van der Merwe (2004) studies

Trophy hunting was banned in Kenya in 1977… but commercial trade continues. Between 1999 and 2008, 2,108 lion specimens were exported from Kenya; most were scientific specimens (2,025 of 2,108 or 96 percent).  Exports also included 3 bodies, 8 claws, 1 garment, 50 hair, 5 leather products, one live animal, two skin pieces, 8 skins, three teeth and two trophies. All specimens exported were from wild lions that originated in Kenya except for one skin exported to France in 2003 which was from a captive-bred lion, two claws and 35 specimens which were from an illegal source, and two leather products and three skins which were pre-Convention.  Thus, Kenya exported 10 wild lions or their parts during the decade (adding three bodies, one live animal, four skins, and two trophies). Two of the bodies were part of a travelling exhibition and one was exported to the U.S. for personal purposes; the one live lion was exported to Uganda for reintroduction purposes; the four skins were exported to the Netherlands (1) and the U.S. (3) for personal purposes; and the two trophies were exported to the U.S. (1) and the U.K. (1) for personal purposes.

Exports also included 110 specimens exported to the U.S. for commercial purposes in 2000.

Ten wild source lions were exported from Kenya during the decade; this is less than one percent of the population (10 of 2,515). Annualized, these exports represent less than one percent of the population.”

Place J, Flocken J, Travers W, Waterland S, Telecky T, Kennedy C, Goyenechea A (2011) Petition to list the African Lion (Panthera leo leo) as endangered pursuant to the US Endangered Species Act.  The International Fund for Animal Welfare, The Born Free Foundation, The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International, Defenders of Wildlife (pdf)

In 2004 Kenya proposed that the African lion should be upgraded to CITES Appendix 1 (pdf)

Lions in Culture


The African lion is the national animal of Kenya.

The coat of arms of Kenya features two lions, a symbol of protection, holding spears and a traditional East African shield. The shield and spears symbolize unity and defence of freedom. The shield contains the national colours, representing: black for the people of Kenya, green for the agriculture and natural resources, red for the struggle for freedom and white for unity and peace.

The middle red strip bears a rooster holding an axe, which according to local customs, denotes a new and prosperous life.

The shield and lions stand on a silhouette of Mount Kenya containing in the foreground examples of Kenya agricultural produce - coffee, pyrethrum, sisal, tea, maize and pineapples.

The coat of arms is supported by a scroll upon which is written the word 'Harambee'. In Swahili, Harambee means "pulling together" or "all for one". It is the cry of the fishermen as they draw their nets towards the shore. The same word is echoed by everyone when a collective effort is made for the common good, such as helping a family in need, or the construction of a school or a church. (html)

Whilst under British rule the National anthem was the British anthem “God Save the Queen” whilst “Kenya Land of the Lion” was the national song that was sung at sporting and other events:


Kenya! Land of the lion
Land of adventure and sun
Land where friendship and laughter
Wait for those who come after.
Onward! Grey skies or blue
We'll march steadfast and true.
Kenyans, staunch and united
We'll march on.
Kenya! Land of enchantment
We'll hold your banner on high.
Clear our voices are ringing
Youth and hope in our singing.
What of glory and fame?
We'll just stick to the game
Kenyans, staunch and united
We'll march on.

The lions on the coat of arms appear on Kenyan bank notes and coins.  A three dimensional portrait of a lion’s head can be seen when notes are held up to the light.

Traditional hunting of lions

The Maasai engage in Ala-mayo, the hunting of lion as an expression of bravery in a rite of passage to adulthood. (Spencer, 1988).  When large maned lions are killed the mane is used at ceremonies or hung on the village flag pole.  The tail and paws are often retained for ceremonial purposes before being discarded.  Other tribes also engage in ritual killings, about which less is known, such as the Sukuma and Datoga peoples.

Spencer P (1988) The Maasai of Matapato: a study of rituals of rebellion.  International African Library.  Manchester University Press. (book – purchase required).  Also (html)

Man-eating lions in Kenya impact attitudes to the species

1898: Construction of a railway from Mombasa to Lake Victoria is progressing fast, but delayed in Tsavo. Two lions kill and eats 135 Indian and African railway workers. Lt. Col. J.H. Patterson manages to kill the lions after hunting them for nine months. The events were dramatized in the film The Ghost and The Darkness. The man-eating lions are still on display in The Field Museum, Chicago.

The Trials and Persecution of Mungiki – The Dread Warrior Lions of Kenya (html)

“The Mungiki are thought to be militants from Kenya’s biggest ethnic group, the Kikuyu. Most of the members of the movement are poverty stricken slum dwellers, who often become psychologically empowered by the doctrine of this movement.

The movement promotes a return to pristine African traditional values and a dissociation from the corrosive influence of western ways and culture.

Members of this movement view Africa as the promised land flowing with milk and honey and are prepared to cut out the hindrances and obstacle established by the former colonial state structure to the reconstruction of a true African personality…

The Mungikis often wear dreadlocks as a sign of their separation from the western world, as a sign of their totem the lion, and as the outer manifestation of their inner spiritual potency.”

Escape the lions – a Kenyan children’s game

You start with a large group of children, four of whom are the "'lions" and who are blindfolded.  The rest are called "mtu," the Swahili word for people; that form a circle around the lions. The goal is for the mtu to take turns to capture the lions' treasure, which consists of items placed in the centre of the circle, without getting captured (tagged).  Chidren who succeed in gaining the treasure become the lions in the next round.

Governing Body

Kenya Wildlife Service
P.O. Box 40241 - 00100


“To sustainably conserve and manage Kenya’s wildlife and its habitats in collaboration with other stakeholders for posterity”

“At KWS, we conserve and manage Kenya’s wildlife scientifically, responsively and professionally. We do this with integrity, recognizing and encouraging staff creativity, continuous learning and teamwork; in partnership with communities and other.

Our Mandate

  • Stewardship of National Parks and Reserves, including security for visitors and wildlife within and outside protected areas
  • Oversight of wildlife conservation and management outside protected areas, including those under local authorities, community and private sanctuaries
  • Conservation education and training
  • Wildlife research
  • Input into national wildlife-related law and policy, and adapting and carrying out international conventions and protocols.

More specifically, conserving our wildlife heritage and habitat requires multiple roles in multiple sectors. These include:

Parks and Reserves: 

KWS manages about 8 per cent of the total landmass of the country. This land contains 22 National Parks, 28 National Reserves and 5 National Sanctuaries.  Also under KWS management are 4 Marine National Parks and 6 Marine National Reserves at the Coast. In addition, KWS manages 125 field stations outside protected areas.  

Beyond wildlife habitats, the parks and stations feature office and residential blocks, training institutes, workshop areas, research centres, bandas, hotels, shops and restaurants, boreholes, road networks, airstrips and related plants and equipment.”

Kenya Wildlife Bill 2011 (pdf)

Lions in the News




Facilitated Research

Join us