Tag Archives: lion poisoning

The Marsh Pride: end of an era

Jonathan Scott: The poisoning of members of the Marsh Pride, the world’s best known lions, highlights the need for a lasting solution to human–wildlife conflict in Africa


Lioness Bibi in her prime in the Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. Bibi was a member of the Marsh Pride that featured in the BBC TV series “Big Cat Diary” from 1996 to 2008. Bibi died on 6 December 2015 after being poisoned along with other members of the pride. Photograph: courtesy of © Andrea Scott. All rights reserved.

Lioness Bibi in her prime in the Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. Bibi was a member of the Marsh Pride that featured in the BBC TV series “Big Cat Diary” from 1996 to 2008. Bibi died on 6 December 2015 after being poisoned along with other members of the pride. Photograph: courtesy of © Andrea Scott. All rights reserved.

On Sunday morning (6 December 2015) news broke of the poisoning of members of the Marsh Pride. These are the lions that Angela and I have followed since 1977 and were the stars of our “Big Cat” TV series, that documented the fascinating and often tumultuous life of the pride over a period of more than 12 years.

The Marsh Pride occupies a territory on the edge of the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, one of Africa’s foremost protected areas. All members of the “big five” (lion, leopard, African elephant, African buffalo, and black rhinoceros) are found on the vast plains of the Mara, plus a wealth of other wildlife.

On Saturday night, the lions had killed cattle belonging to a family living near the reserve. In retaliation, a member of the family sprinkled pesticide onto the carcass, knowing that the lions would return. He was intentionally trying to kill them. How many lions have died as a result is still unclear.


The body of Marsh Lioness Bibi, who died from poisoning at 7.30 am on Sunday 6 December 2015, along with other members of the Marsh Pride. Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. Photograph: Courtesy of Patrick Reynolds

The body of Marsh Lioness Bibi, who died from poisoning at 7.30 am on Sunday 6 December 2015, along with other members of the Marsh Pride. Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. Photograph: Courtesy of Patrick Reynolds

I wish I could say that this was shocking news, but there is nothing shocking any more about what is happening in the Masai Mara. Tens of thousands of cattle encroach in to the Reserve every night when visitors are safely out of sight – but when the likelihood of conflict with predators such as lions and hyenas is at its greatest. This makes no sense.

This sorry state of affairs is testimony to the appalling management of the Reserve east of the river. This is a situation that has existed for at least as long as I have known the Masai Mara. Management failures contributed to the precipitous decline in the Mara’s black rhino population from an estimated 150 to 200 in the 1960s to just 11 by 1983 (it has risen again to between 30 and 40).

The BBC filmed the hugely popular TV series ‘Big Cat Diary’ in Marsh Pride territory from 1996 to 2008. Our base in the Mara was – and still is – a stone cottage at Governor’s Camp. This is a safari camp set in the heart of the reserve, in the vicinity of the glorious Musiara Marsh after which the Marsh Lions were named.

The Marsh is the heart of the Marsh Pride’s dry season territory, while to the east the intermittent watercourse known as Bila Shaka was the traditional breeding site and resting place for the pride. Bila Shaka means ‘without fail’ in Swahili, testimony that the guides could always find lions here. Not now.

Each year Governor’s Camp outfitted a special tented camp for us along the Mara River just upstream from Main Camp. The foundation of the series was that we always knew that we could find lions, leopards and cheetahs in the area on a daily basis. The Marsh Pride were at the heart of the series, and virtually never let us down.

The Marsh Pride at home in the Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. Photograph: courtesy of © Andrea Scott. All rights reserved.

The Marsh Pride at home in the Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. Photograph: courtesy of © Andrea Scott. All rights reserved.

But that all changed when the authorities decided to turn a blind eye to the incursion of cattle into the reserve, forcing the lions to move out or risk death. The Marsh Pride has always been vulnerable since its territory spreads beyond the reserve boundary. This is particularly apparent in the wet season when Musiara Marsh (and Bila Shaka at times) becomes waterlogged and the lions move to higher ground to north and east.

Each year we lose lions to poisoning or spearing by pastoralists. That was always part of life for the lions. But in the last few years the situation has escalated beyond all reason, with the Marsh Pride becoming increasingly fragmented by the influx of cattle and herdsmen. Today it would be impossible to film Big Cat Diary in the same location. What a damning fact that is.

This year the impact of livestock has been all too apparent. Huge herds of cattle would camp during the daytime along the boundary of the reserve waiting for the tourists to head in to camp. Soon the Musiara area looked like a desert and each night you could see dozens of flickering torches as the cattle were driven in to the reserve after dark.

The deep tracks leading into the reserve are testament to this, along with piles of cattle dung scattered deep inside it. And the Musiara area is not alone. Guides from other parts of the Mara have been complaining about this situation for years. But nobody seems to be able to do anything about it.

These incursions are threatening the social cohesion – and very existence – of the Marsh Pride. Earlier in the year a breakaway group of young Marsh Pride females with young cubs were forced to cross the Mara River and set up home in the Kichwa Tembo area. The older females – Bibi (17), Sienna (11) and Charm (11) – and their cubs increasingly avoided Bila Shaka and the Marsh, loitering at the fringes of their traditional territory, forced to encroach on neighbouring prides.

The pride males – Scarface and his three companions – no longer visit the Musiara area, ever since Scarface was shot in 2013. He was treated and recovered but knew better than to stay.

In the past pride males often only managed a tenure of 2 years – sometimes less – before being forced out of their pride by younger or more powerful rivals. It was not uncommon to see groups of five or six young nomadic males roaming the Musiara or Paradise area together. I have counted as many as nine travelling as a group. That was a sign of a healthy lion population with lots of dispersing sub-adults.

Now Marsh Pride males are able to remain as pride males for many more years, due to a decline in the number of young nomadic male lions vying to replace them. The scarcity of these nomadic males suggests that they are not surviving as well as in the past, due to the disturbance that lions are facing on a nightly basis in parts of the Mara from livestock and herdsmen, or from trying to survive in less optimal areas beyond the reserve boundary.

Lions are always going to kill livestock if it comes within range – and of course they will sometimes kill livestock outside the reserve and must bear the consequences when they do. The only way to prevent this happening is if there are sufficient incentives to persuade the herdsmen that lions equate to tourists – and that means a financial return.

And that is the key point. Many Masai do not think of the Masai Mara Reserve as a source of income. They often feel that it is unfair that wildlife is allowed to share their pastures, and sometimes kill their livestock, while they are not allowed to reciprocate by bringing livestock in to the Reserve during dry times.

The Masai have roamed these areas for hundreds of years, long before it was given official protection. Understandably the Masai claim the Mara as their own. The authorities urgently need to address this issue by ensuring that everyone benefits from tourism to the Mara in a truly tangible way.

There will be no safe place for the Marsh Lions until the reserve authorities decide to address all of the issues that have been debated ever since I first came to live in the Mara in 1977. Measures must be taken now to ensure an equitable distribution of revenue from the reserve to the local community, and to increase support for the wildlife conservancies created on private lands around the reserve, where cattle grazing is permitted on a rotational basis.

Within the reserve, there should be a moratorium on any further tourism development, and an embargo on grazing of livestock.

What a miracle it would be if the demise of the Marsh Pride became the catalyst for serious dialogue and change as to how the Masai Mara is managed. The Governor of Narok County, the Honorable Samuel Ole Tunai, pledged to do just that when he called a Masai Mara Stakeholders Meeting in Nairobi in September 2015.

I attended that meeting and was impressed by the number of people who made the effort to come along and by the Governor’s openness to dialogue. Since then a small group of concerned individuals drawn from all walks of life have worked to support the Governor’s initiative.

We can only hope that we are about to witness tangible steps towards securing the future of this iconic landscape and its magnificent wildlife.


Paula Kahumbu writes: This is an edited version of an article written by Jonathan and Angela Scott and published on their blog on 7 December 2015. Jonathan and his wife Angie are award winning authors and internationally renowned wildlife photographers. My sincere thanks to Jonathan and Angela for permission to publish the article here.

Responding to a tip-off from visitors, the Kenya Wildlife Service and local authorities acted swiftly to bring the culprits to court, while the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and other local conservation organisations were prompt to treat the affected lions. But despite this veterinary support three lions have already died. At the time of writing, another four are still sick. The condition of others is not known.

Kenya has never before charged a person with poisoning wildlife, even though it is a frequent crime that has devastating effects on populations of lions, vultures and other predators.

However in this case the new Wildlife Crime Prosecution Unit has moved quickly to charge the suspects of this crime with offences against endangered wildlife species under Section 92 of the 2013 Wildlife Act, which could result in a fine of Ksh 20 million (USD 200,000) and/or life imprisonment.

This is another welcome sign that Kenyan courts are now taking wildlife crimes seriously. As Jonathan eloquently argues, this needs to be backed up by action to address the root causes of wildlife crime, inspired by the vision of a common future for people and wildlife


5 lions and 16 vultures poisoned in Uganda

FIVE lions and 16 vultures in the Queen Elizabeth National Park in western Uganda have died of suspected
poisoning, acting warden Nelson Guma said. The carcasses of three
lionesses and two males, formerly part of a pride of about 10, along the Kasenyi
track, were discovered about a kilometre from Hamukungu fish landing site on
Wednesday. Park rangers said one of the lionesses was pregnant. Guma
expressed the fear that more lions and wild animals like hyenas, which feed on
dead animals, could also be dead. Usually local people complain of the
wild animals eating their domestic animals, but Guma said there had been no such
case in the recent past.

“It is unfortunate that people with bad hearts poison the lions and end up killing more animals than intended,” he said.

Reports said two people were arrested near the area where the lions were
killed. The animals reportedly killed and ate six head of cattle two months ago.
Guma said he would investigate the claims. Rangers yesterday
retrieved the carcasses of the lions from the wilderness for examination. They
also recovered two dead head of cattle and two cow skins. A swarm of dead green
flies littered the area, indicating possible poisoning. Dr. Margaret
Drachiru, a veterinary doctor at the Uganda Wildlife Authority we took samples
for testing, said the animals could have died on Sunday. She added that
the two head of cattle were not killed by the lions, but were slaughtered and
placed there to trap the cats. According to Guma, lions are the biggest
tourist attraction in the Queen Elizabeth National Park. The dead lions
were the ones which tourists were sure to see at the park, which is said to hold
about 105 lions. The park covers Kyambura and Ishasha sectors. Experts,
using scientific methods, found 214 cats between 1999 and 2004 in Uganda. But
crude estimates put the number to about 745 across the country. It is believed
that the Queen Elizabeth park and the DR Congo hold up to 905 African lions.
Perceived as a threat to livestock and humans, lions are also hunted for
their skins and purported medicinal values. They are poisoned, shot, or speared
by locals. While lion populations in protected areas remain relatively
healthy, conservationists say without urgent measures, they may disappear as
their habitat is lost to deforestation and encroachers. For example, in
2006, about 10 lions were killed in the park in areas which were temporarily
occupied by the Basongora pastoralists who had been chased from the Virunga
National Park in eastern Congo. Uganda has 10 national parks. Lions are
also found in the Murchison Falls in Kidepo Park. Some are said to be in the
Semliki area in Toro. In Lake Mburo National Park, however, the lions
have become extinct. The Uganda Wildlife Authority has put in place
various interventions, including sensitising communities around the parks in an
attempt to save the big cats.

This story was published in Uganda’s New Vision Newspaper and can be found at “http://www.newvision.co.ug/D/8/12/720148

Details and photos of lions poisoned in Masai Mara

On the 25th of April investigators discovered three dead  lions near Lemek in the Masai Mara ecosystem which occurred on the 22nd of April 2010. The lions lay dead in a traditional homestead where they had been poisoned by eating a cow laced with pesticides by a Masai family. A lioness had died about 5-10 meters away from the cow carcass. The carcasses of a juvenile male and second lioness lay some 30m away. There were piles of dead flies around the cow carcass and the lions had not yet been scavenged. KWS arrested a local man who admitted that he had poisoned the lions with his neighbors. He produced a container that contained pink powder, which he had used to poison the lion. The same pink coloring was visible on the laced meat of the cow carcass used for the poisoning.  KWS have sent samples of the lion carcasses and the pink substance have been sent for toxicological tests to confirm what pesticide was used.

lion poisoned Masai Mara

The suspect confirmed that the cow carcass that was laced belonged to him and other family members, and that it had been killed by lions when his herd’s boy was grazing livestock. The suspect was taken to the police by KWS but despite the admission of guilt and evidence provided, he was released shortly thereafter. According to sources who wish to remain anonymous, a local politician intervened on his behalf.

Lion poisoning 2nd female-1small

This incident brings to 8 the number of confirmed poisoning cases of lions in recent weeks in southern Kenya, the other five occurring near the Amboseli National Park. In their National Conservation and Management strategy for Lions and Hyenas, the Kenya Wildlife Service state that “poisoning is perhaps the greatest threat to predators and scavenging birds” and reveal that Kenya’s lion population has declined to fewer than 2,000 individuals and estimates that only 1,970 individuals remain.  KWS confirm that 2010 has started off badly for lions – in addition to 8 confirmed poisonings, more than 10 other lions have been killed in other circumstances; A lion was shot in or near Buffalo Springs Reserve, Samburu District, by local police, while others have been speared near Amboseli  National Park.

lion poisoning (Cow) small

In response to this incident, Richard Leakey the Chairman of WildlifeDirect has again called for the government to take action “The future of tourism in Kenya is at risk if dangerous pesticides used to kill lions like Carbofuran (sold locally as Furadan) remain on the market and cases of abuse are not followed up and culprits are set free time and time again. The Kenyan government must show it’s seriousness and take swift action on availability of deadly pesticides like Furadan and the enforcement of the law in obvious incidents of pesticide abuse such as this. Failing this Kenya’s lions go extinct in a matter of years which will cause a catastrophic loss in potential tourism revenues ” .

Conservationists in Kenya warn that carbofuran is the most widely used pestsicide to kill wildlife pests such as lions and leopards in the country. It is also used in pesticide fishing and hunting of birds for human consumption. Carbofuran is a neurotoxin that is deadly to fish, birds in irrigation schemes, cats and even humans.  Due to it’s toxicity and negative impacts, carbofuran is not permitted for use in agriculture in the European Union and use in USA where it is manufactured, was recently revoked after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found it unsafe for users, consumers and wildlife. After incidents of lion poisoning in Kenya became public in 2008, the manufacturers of Furadan, FMC withdrew the product from Kenyan shelves. However, carbofuran is not banned and Furadan can still be found in some places, and the active ingredient carbofuran occurs in other over-the-counter pesticides.

Lion Death Map  Masai Mara

WildlifeDirect is a conservation charity registered in USA and Kenya, and based in Nairobi. We enable conservationists at the front lines to tell their stories and raise awareness about their work through over 80 blogs from the field on the website platform http://wildlifedirect.org.  The Chairman of WildlifeDirect is Dr. Richard Leakey and the Executive Director is Dr. Paula Kahumbu. Visit http://wildlifedirect.org for more information

Furadan: WildlifeDirect is campaigning for the de-registration or total ban on the active ingredient of Furadan, carbofuran in Kenya due to the threats it poses to users, consumers and wildlife. This pesticide threatens the survival of lions, vultures, fish species and many other mammals and birds In Kenya. Furadan is produced in USA by FMC and is sold locally by Juanco SPS as an agricultural insecticide.  For more information on our campaign against wildlife poisoning visit http://stopwildlifepoisoning.wildlifedirect.org

KWS is the government body responsible for wildlife conservation in Kenya.  For more information visit http://www.kws.org

For other photographs or more information please contact Paula Kahumbu [email protected], or call 0722685106, or 020 2602463

8 more lions killed – Kenya Government now discussing carbofuran poisoning

Dear friends,

We have just been informed of another case of lion poisoning. Three lions, two adult females and one adolescent male were poisoned on the 25th of April in the Masai Mara. The culprit was caught with a tub of the pesticide alleged to be Furadan or a carbofuran based pesticide. A camel that had been killed by lions was laced with the pesticide by a young man. He admitted his action and identified where he had obtained the product – from the house of a local government official! Needdless to say, although KWS arrested the man and had him behind bars, the government official had him quickly released.

In Amboseli it is estimated that over 12 lions have been poisoned since the beginning of the year. The most recent incident involved five lions. KWS are still awaiting test results from this incident.

We will be sharing photographs and details shortly.

Although some govenrment officials continue to deny that lions are being poisoned, or that the misues of pesticides like Furadan are a good reason to ban the product, there is clearly emerging recognition that the problem is very serious. Some lion experts believe that the total number of lions in Kenya had dropped to well below the 2,000 claimed by KWS. This is mostly due to poisoning of lions in retaliation to incidents of conflict. The value that lions bring to Kenya cannot be overstated, they are the number one attraction to the country. Without lions our valuable tourism industry will falter.

The Agriculturalists in Government warn however that banning carbofuran will have a devastating effect on food security of the country. We find this very hard to believe especially since the product has been withrdawn from the market with no obvious effect since late 2008. In USA and Europe alternative safer and more environmentally friendly pesticides replace carbofuran, we expect the same will happen in Kenya and Africa, especially for export crops since Europe and the USA do not accept any residues of carbofuran on food imports.

While it’s bad news for lions, we do have some hopeful news on our campaign to have Carboruran banned in Kenya. During recent weeks we have been in talks with the Agricultural Ministry and other government departments over the issue of Carbofuran poisoning.

The Environmental Secretary of the Agricultural Ministry has created a Task Force to examine the evidence and come up with recommendations regarding the use and abuse of carbofuran in Kenya. Participants in the meeting include a number of Government agencies that have already demonstrated great resistance to our efforts to raise awareness about the threats that Carbofuran pose to wildlife, especially lions and vultures. The conservationists were limited to WildlfeDirect and WWF. Its not ideal, the table is not balanced and discussions are very uncomfortable, but at least there is some level of discussion. What we are most concerned about is that the proposed way forward will entail recommendations moving up four different levels of committees before any decision can be made. Given how ‘fast’ our government works, we are looking at years and years of discussions.

We are hoping however that the evidence that we have will be compelling enough to enable the new and hopefully more humane Agricultural Minister, Mrs. Sally Kosgey to move quickly.

Please support our work to enable us to Kick Carbofuran out of Kenya.

The poisoning of Kenya’s lions

Dear all,

After the death of a child in Kenya from ingesting Furadan, and with the US Environmental Protection Agency banning carbofuran in America, we feel that there is no justification for delaying banning it in Kenya.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/PLaLUyH4-vo" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Watch this video and share with your friends. Please support our campaign to save lions.

Thank you

FMC response to Furadan poisoning

Dear friends,


Here is the official MC Response to 60 Minutes Story on Kenyan Lion Poisonings

March 29, 2009

On Sunday, March 29, CBS News 60 Minutes aired a story on the human-wildlife conflict in Kenya that reports Furadan®, an FMC insecticide, has become the preferred product that many cattle herders use to poison lions that kill their livestock. FMC strongly condemns the use of its products to kill wildlife and is very concerned about these allegations. The company has taken several actions to address the situation including:

  • Stopping all sales of Furadan to Kenya immediately after learning of an incident in May 2008
  • Immediately initiating a Furadan buy-back program in Kenya to remove any remaining product from the market
  • Direct outreach to leading conservationists to get any data concerning lion poisonings

In the segment, “60 Minutes” implies that more than 75 lion poisonings have been caused by Furadan. We are greatly troubled by the potential magnitude of this situation as it has never been brought to our attention despite our repeated requests to the Kenyan Wildlife Service to share any and all information about lion poisonings.

When a report surfaced last year that Furadan may have been involved in poisoning lions in the Maasai Mara region of Kenya, FMC immediately suspended the introduction of any additional Furadan into the distribution channel. We have now instituted a buy-back of Furadan to speed its removal from the market. We will not reintroduce Furadan into Kenya until appropriate safeguards are in place.

FMC is a global company dedicated to delivering innovative products that improve the lives of people around the world. We take tremendous pride, not only in our products, but in our stewardship programs. We will continue to work with the Kenyan government, agricultural industry and conservation groups to try to prevent the misuse of our product or any other pesticide used to kill wildlife.

For further information about FMC products and stewardship initiatives, please visit www.furadanfacts.com.

Media contact: Jim Fitzwater – 215.299.6633 or [email protected]

Download: FMC Statement on 60 Minutes Story on Lion Poisonings – Press Statement (PDF, 137KB)