From: Reuters
Published March 14, 2008 07:57 AM

Lions speared to death near Kenyan park

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Three lions have been speared to death close to Kenya's Amboseli national park, a senior Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) official said on Friday, raising concerns about the country's dwindling population of big cats.

Five suspects have been arrested over the killings, which occurred over a one month period, said Patrick Omondi, head of Species, Conservation and Management for the KWS.

He said Maasai herdsmen were suspected of killing the lions after the predators attacked their cows outside the park.

"People purported that two lionesses had killed two cows," Omondi told Reuters, but added that poachers may have been involved.

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"Rangers were immediately deployed to the area, given that the skin and teeth of one of the lions was missing," he said. "It leads us to believe that illegal traders, using the Maasai morans (warriors), are involved in this."

Rapid population growth not only in Kenya but across Africa has increased pressure on scarce water resources and grazing land, stoking conflict between humans and wildlife.

The latest killings have alarmed conservationists in the east African country. The lion population has diminished by 75 percent to some 2,500 compared to 10,000 in the 1970s.

"The retaliatory killing of predators is now so widespread that it constitutes the greatest threat to Africa's big cats and scavengers, quickly driving some species like lions closer to extinction," said Paula Kahumbu of the WildlifeDirect conservation group in a statement.

Kenya's tourism sector, which was the country's top foreign currency earner last year, depends on its teeming wildlife.

(Reporting by Lisa Ntungicimpaye; Editing by Peter Murphy)

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