Suburban Lions Present a Conundrum

sively managed, fenced reserves, as in South Africa. But such a network does not exist in Kenya, and moving lions that are known livestock killers only shifts the problem to another area.

In addition, lions are highly territorial, and do not welcome newcomers. “The great majority of people are not aware of the true consequences of translocating carnivores, and just assume that it is the ‘kind’ thing to do,” Dr. Frank said. “Translocating a lion kills it slowly and cruelly, but out of sight.

“Even if they are released in the center of Meru, the existing lion population will force her to the boundaries, where she will encounter livestock and people at a time when she is desperate to feed her cubs.”

Both Dr. Packer and Dr. Frank say the most humane solution for the suburban lions would have been euthanasia. But there is “a complete disconnect,” Dr. Packer told me, “between the public’s attachment to individual animals and the profound need to conserve populations, and a diversion of resources from what is critical.” Ultimately, lions may persist in Nairobi National Park only if it can be fenced completely.

While capturing and translocating suburban lions sounds like reality television fodder, the realities of modern wildlife management are not so entertaining. That romantic vision of lions will never be realized again, especially on the developing outskirts of Nairobi. So while appearing heartless on the surface, the utilitarian act of euthanizing some problem animals for the greater good of the species may prove critical to having any wild lions at all in Kenya.

Stephanie M. Dloniak is a biologist and science writer based in Kenya.

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