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Lions in Nairobi? A new suburban problem

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The human-wildlife conflict – an almost inevitable factor of life in Nairobi as human settlement moves ever closer to national parks and wildlife areas – peaked in June, when Masai warriors speared to death six lions in Ilkeek-Lemedung'i village in Kitengela area on the southern side of the park. The predators had killed 13 goats and sheep, and mauled one person in an attack, according to members of the community. Three other lions were killed in December 2011 and January 2012 near Nairobi Park. Although killing lions is illegal here and the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) has promised to arrest the killers, no one has been arrested or charged.

“The killings are regrettable, but this was a reaction of the community which feels frustrated and threatened. The situation has gone from bad to worse,” says Sidney Quntai, the chairman of Kenya Coalition for Wildlife Conservation and Management, a civil society organization. “It is difficult to sleep peacefully at night, since one has to keep ears and eyes open. In case of noise one creeps out to see if the animals are safe,” adds Mr. Quntai.

Located seven kilometers from Nairobi, and covering 44 miles square, Nairobi National Park is by no means the only park in the world located near a major metropolis. The Indian city of Mumbai, for instance, has Sanjay Gandhi National Park, home to leopards who occasionally prey on the animals of shack-dwellers who live on its perimeter. But Nairobi's claim of sheltering the “big five” – lions, leopards, elephants, buffaloes, and rhinos – does help to attract thousands of local and international tourists. 

In a country where tourism makes up 12 percent of gross domestic product, and 21 percent of its foreign exchange earnings, nobody wants to do anything that might disrupt that business. But when lions prowl the suburbs of a capital city, the call for action is inevitable.

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