Hyenas on the rampage
April 18 2012

The following has been published on the blog of the Lion Guardians, a lion conservation effort operating with Maasai communities in East Africa (source: Hyenas on the Rampage by the Lion Guardians 16 Apr 2012: html)

"Since late last year and the beginning of this year, conflict levels {between lions and people] have drastically reduced. Lion attacks on livestock have been few and far between and this has made the work of various stakeholders within the Amboseli ecosystem [Kenya], including our Lion Guardians, a bit easy. However, hyenas, the most hated animal by any pastoralist, seem to have other ideas! Their attacks on livestock have been on the increase every single day and they are now practically on the rampage. Their attacks on livestock, at bomas and in the bush when they get lost, are now stretching communal tolerance towards carnivores. Reports of their attacks are not confined to a particular locality, rather they are widely distributed across the ecosystem.

The Maasai community respect and admire lions because they cannot attack livestock unless they are hungry. And even when they do, they kill only what they can eat. For example in a herd of 100 cows, they only kill one. But hyenas kill any moving livestock even if they can no longer eat, which is why they are so disliked by pastoralists!

An estimate of the number of lions within the Amboseli ecosystem in 2010 suggested there may be 60 individuals resident (pdf).  

One outcome of apex predator removal is the rise of mesopredators – those smaller members of the predator guild that are characterized by living in high densities, and have high rates of recruitment and dispersal.  A population explosion of baboons through the removal of lion and leopard in some areas has led to a cascade of events including baboons preying on the young of antelopes, causing significant crop damage, raiding the nests of bird species, and even keeping children out of school to help protect maize fields from ravenous troops of these monkeys.   Another aspect of increasing mesopredator populations is economic.  Higher populations can cause the same or new conflicts with man and costs of artificially controlling numbers can be high due to the high density in which mesopredators can thrive. 

It is vital that top-down regulation of prey and the impacts on mesopredator populations is acknowledged and considered within in-situ conservation efforts for apex predators. The loss of the lion within African terrestrial ecosystems could result in serious and unpredictable repercussions throughout the food chain and ecosystem negatively affecting numerous taxa.

For more on the ecological importance of lions click here

For more information about lions in Kenya as a whole, click here.  



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