Magazine article The Spectator

Problem Predators

Magazine article The Spectator

Problem Predators

Article excerpt

Wild life

Every time I see or hear lion on the farm, I feel immensely privileged to be on Kenya's Laikipia plateau where such things can happen. But at the same time I wonder if the predators are going to hit the livestock bomas, in which case they might have to be shot. At least we'll be using a rifle to target a single delinquent animal found on a kill. Our pastoralist neighbours, the Samburu or Maasai, might respond by lacing a sheep carcass with poison to wipe out an entire lion pride.

Laikipia is unique because it is Africa's last great wilderness in private hands. People and animals have to live alongside each other. This has served to protect wildlife, whereas in parks the game has gone into sharp decline. Still, there is no real option to `lethal control' of lions that kill cattle, and up to 40 lion are shot annually in Laikipia. An extraordinary scientific project is underway up here that indicates you can almost predict when a lion is going to turn delinquent: for example, when a lioness stops breeding, her ovaries dry up and she has nobody with whom to hunt. And individual lions can learn bad habits. The Laikipia Predator Project has put radio collars on 65 lion. The boffins give them names like Pussy Galore and Thelma and Louise. And what they've found is that some 40 per cent of the ones that were collared when found on a domestic animal kill are shot within a year, while only 14 per cent of those collared while on a wild-animal kill get wiped out. In other words, we could make the process of controlling problem predators more efficient by `profiling' them and taking necessary control measures. But British and other conservation groups won't consider backing projects that aim to make lethal control more effective because they are too squeamish to face the truth and tell you, their supporters.

And the truth is that we should be profiting from lion deaths. Tourists with more money than taste would pay up to half-amillion pounds to punch holes in the 40 or so lion killed annually in Laikipia. But under Kenya's current law, introduced in the 1970s, ending the life of a delinquent predator profits nobody by a penny. All we can do in Laikipia is apply for a quota to cull, or `crops several species of common game such as zebra, which compete with livestock for precious grass. …

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