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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Wild lions (and other scavengers) being poisoned by Kenyans with Furadan pesticide

East Africa's lions falling to poison
by Jeremy Hance

Eight lions have been poisoned to death in a month in Kenya, according to conservation organization WildlifeDirect. Locals, frustrated by lions killing their livestock, have taken to poisoning the great cats using a common pesticide in Kenya called carbofuran, known commercially as Furadan.

Last month in Amboseli National Park an entire pride of lions—five in total—died after eating bait that had been laced with carbofuran. A hyena was poisoned as well in what is believed to be a revenge-killing. Later in April three additional lions were poisoned to death in the Masai Mara Park. In this case, the perpetrator was caught and arrested. But he has since been released.

The Kenyan Wildlife Service (KWS) estimated that 1,970 lions survive in Kenya while stating that "poisoning is perhaps the greatest threat to predators and scavenging birds." Scavenger birds also succumb to the poison when farmers or herders lace a livestock corpse with it. It is believed that birds may have died by the millions from the pesticide, because farmers spread it over their fields which birds subsequently feed off. Farmers have even been known to use it to kill birds they consider pests, some will eat the birds or sell them for food.

The toxicity of carbofuran was brought home tragically to the Kenyan public last year when a three-year-old boy consumed the poison and died. Her father, a primary school teacher, had bought the pesticide for his garden.

"The future of tourism in Kenya is at risk if dangerous pesticides like carbofuran (sold locally as Furadan) remain on the market. Time and again, we've seen these substances used to slaughter our national heritage and destroy one of our greatest economic assets. Yet the authorities continually fail to follow up cases of abuse and prosecute the culprits. The Kenyan government must show that it is serious and take swift action to ban deadly pesticides like Furadan and enforce the law," said chairman of Wildlife Direct and renowned conservationist, Dr. Richard Leakey. "If we fail to put a stop to poisonings, our lions could go extinct in a matter of years; a catastrophic loss for anyone who cares about our national heritage, but also a devastating blow to the tourism industry that currently brings in hundreds of millions of dollars to our economy."

WildlifeDirect has long been campaigning against carbofuran in Kenya. The Kenyan government is currently considering a ban, alhough WildlifeDirect warns it may be years before it is approved.

While all forms of carbofuran have been banned in the US and the EU, the pesticide is manufactured in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania by Farm Machinery and Chemicals (FMC).

Although beloved animals to many, lion populations have been falling precipitously over the last century, down from over 100,000 lions at the beginning of the century to approximately 39,000 in 2002. Poisoning, spearing, habitat loss, decline in prey, and even climate change are thought to be behind the species' decline. The lion is currently listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List.

Last year the KWS warned that 'the king of the jungle' could vanish entirely from Kenya in 20 years, if action isn't taken to better protect the cat.

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