At a recent meeting, Ms. Alayne Cotteril explained that the misuse of carbofuran (sold as Furadan in Kenya) in Kenya could push Kenya’s few remaining lions over the threshold and into extinction. Living with Lions is an organization managed by Dr Laurence Frank that believes the most urgent threat to lions today is the widespread use of poison to kill them in retaliation for depredation on livestock. This is their message.
When lions or hyenas kill a cow, they eat part of it and come back the next night to finish the carcass. Livestock owners have learned that a universally available agricultural pesticide carbofuran (marketed as Furadan) is lethal to predators – they need only sprinkle a few cents worth of carbofuran on the carcass and any mammal or bird which feeds on it will die.
This cow (above), found by one of LWL’s Lion Guardians was killed by lions and partially eaten. They returned to the carcass the next night, providing an easy opportunity for a potential lion poisoner.
LWL has evidence of over 60 lions poisoned in just our Laikipia and Kilimanjaro study areas, sometimes whole prides at once. These are a small fraction of the predators actually killed by poison, because in the vast expanse of African rangelands, relatively few come to the attention of researchers or the authorities.
We frequently learn of a poisoning when we find one of our collared lions dead. The animals are often found next to a poisoned livestock carcass.
Richard Bonham’s evidence of large scale lion and hyena poisoning in 2001-2 motivated the establishment of his Predator Compensation Fund and LWL’s Kilimanjaro Lion Conservation Project. More recently the Amboseli Predator Project has been started by LWL to investigate the problem in another area of Maasailand.
Carbofuran, which is banned in the US and Europe because of its lethal effects on wildlife, is sold throughout agricultural areas of Kenya. It is legitimately used as an insecticide and nematicide, but one need only ask any agricultural supply shop for something to kill stray dogs, hyena or lions, and for about $1.50 they will sell a small plastic jar of carbofuran granules, enough to kill a whole pride of lions or clan of hyenas.
Although poisoned predators are rarely found by conservationists, a more visible effect of predator poisoning is the disappearance of vultures and some species of eagles from the skies of Kenya. These also feed on poison-laced livestock carcasses or the bodies of dead lions and hyenas and are also killed, sometimes dozens at a time.
Some vulture species have become nearly extinct in Kenya and others are severely reduced. Elsewhere, carbofuran is also reported to be used for poisoning fish for human consumption, and crocodiles for their skins.
What can be done?
In the short term, Kenya must ban the importation and sale of carbofuran and replace its legitimate agricultural use with other pesticides which cannot be abused to kill wildlife.
However, in the long term, we must find ways to make predators more valuable to the rural people who share the land with wildlife. So long as wild animals are regarded by people as an expensive nuisance rather than a valuable resource, wildlife in Africa will continue to decline, eaten as cheap bush meat, poisoned and speared as pests.
In a world increasingly dominated by humans, crops and livestock, all Living with Lions programs are focused on this one ultimate challenge to conservation.