Revealed: How an angry village plotted to kill 10 lions in Kajiado

amboseli lions killed

One of the lions killed by herders in Kajiado South on May 13, 2023 after a night of terror when a pride of nine lions strayed from Amboseli National Park.

Photo credit: Stanley Ngotho | Nation Media Group

The human-wildlife conflict in the vast Kajiado district has snowballed into a catastrophe over the past week, leaving 10 lions, 10 goats and a dog dead and residents haggling over unpaid claims.

Saturday, May 13 was a dark day for wildlife conservationists. On that day, six lions were speared to death by herders at Big Life Foundation headquarters in Imbirikani Ranch within the Amboseli Ecosystem.

The night before, a pride of nine lions had wandered into a homestead near Imbirikani town and preyed on 10 goats and a dog before retreating to Big Life Foundation's fenced headquarters nearby.

On Saturday morning, a group of 60-80 moran youths armed with spears stormed the compound and speared the six lions to death.

In a video obtained by the Nation, the angry youths can be seen pushing the lions into a bush and spearing the docile wild cats to death.

The roars of the terrified animals were drowned out by the screams of the attackers.

The Nation understands that the group of youths had regrouped by dawn, with the blessing of some local leaders, to retaliate.

Spies had earlier pinpointed the lions' location.

"We sent a cold message to KWS to put their house in order. Enough is enough! Let them (KWS) declare the exact number of lions and elephants killed by the community in the last year," boasted one local involved in the macabre killings.

Saturday's incident came days after four other lions were killed in similar separate incidents, including Kajiado's oldest lion, Lonkiito. He was 19 years old.

Lonkiito was speared to death by herders in the village of Olkelunyiet last Wednesday night while trying to prey on livestock.

The old, frail lion had wandered into the village from the park in search of food.

Human-wildlife con-existence

The Nation understands that human-wildlife co-existence in the region has been frosty, and signs of possible retaliation by the herders have been conspicuous. Late last year, the herders threatened to fence off wildlife corridors in response to KWS harassment.

Over the past year, pastoralists facing severe drought have accused Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) officials of high-handedness in dealing with herders, especially those who sneak their cattle into national parks in search of grazing.

For example, pastoralists have been arrested and fined for grazing in Chyulu Hills, Tsavo East or Amboseli National parks.

Kajiado lions

A crisis meeting held on May 14, 2023 at Imbirikani ranch, Kajiado South sub-county following the killing of six lions.

Photo credit: Stanley Ngotho | Nation Media Group

"During the severe droughts, they blocked our livestock from grazing in the parks, but their animals were grazing on our private land... Now (the animals) are preying on the few animals that have survived the drought. It's not fair," complained John Sitoya, a pastoralist.

The culmination of last weekend's killings prompted a crisis meeting on Sunday attended by Tourism, Wildlife and Heritage Cabinet Secretary Peninah Malonza, KWS Director General Dr Erustus Kanga, Kajiado Governor Joseph Ole Lenku, Kajiado County Commissioner Felix Watikila, Kajiado Senator Samuel Seki, KWS Board Chairman Lt Gen (Rtd) Walter Raria Koipaton and the local community neighbouring Imbirikani Group Ranches to address the escalating human-wildlife conflict.

Ms Malonza said the ministry owes the victims of wildlife attacks Sh5.6 billion, accumulated since 2013.

"The government is sourcing enough money to offset the accrued compensation. We want to assure herder's animals are insured against the wildlife attacks,“ the CS said as she pleaded with the Maa community to continue co-existing with wildlife.

Immediate release of the suspects

A visibly angry Kajiado Governor Joseph Lenku demanded the immediate release of the suspects who were arrested on Saturday after killing the lions.

The governor said KWS should be applauding the community for coexisting with wildlife and setting aside 60 percent of their land for conservation, rather than blaming them for an "accidental incident that led to the death of the lions".

Mr Lenku also cancelled contracts for the carbon credit programme in the county, claiming it was counterproductive for the community.

"For those who have carbon credits agreement, contracts or licences as far as the county government goes, they all stand revoked. We signed into credit carbon without knowing what it is, we must go back to the table when there is a framework for us to discuss,” he said.

Kajiado Senator Samuel Seki accused KWS of failing to respond in time to the plight of pastoralists when wild animals attack, but acting quickly when an animal is killed.

"We want a prompt response when a person has been attacked or animals preyed on by wild animals. We demand compensation for our people,” he said.

His views were echoed by the leaders present.

In the last year, cases of human-wildlife conflicts in Kajiado County have risen.

On June 2, 2022, four demonstrators were shot dead and eight others injured by General Services Unit (GSU) officers at Masimba Trading Centre along the Nairobi-Mombasa highway during a demonstration against the increasing deaths and destruction of property by marauding wild animals in Poka Kenyawa Ward, Kajiado County.

Case is still pending

The 10 GSU officers were charged with murder and causing grievous bodily harm under Section 234 of the Penal Code on Monday, November 7, 2022. The case is still pending.

And on December 19, 2022, two middle-aged men were trampled by stray jumbos in the Kimana region. In retaliation, angry locals killed an elephant.

According to a KWS report, on Thursday, December 15, 2022, about 200 people from Esaronoto village, Imbuko Location, Kajiado County, allegedly speared elephants in the area after one of their own, Mr Nelson Lepilal Somoire, was killed a day earlier while riding his bicycle home.

Several other elephants scampered to safety with spear wounds as witnessed by blood droppings on the nature trails/escape routes.

Two years ago, the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Heritage launched the Amboseli Ecosystem Management Plan to curb rampant land-use change in Amboseli National Park, which was threatening the sustainability of wildlife conservation.

The 10-year integrated plan follows numerous human-wildlife conflicts resulting from human activities within the park and along wildlife migration corridors.

The plan now prohibits all human activities within or along the migratory routes to facilitate and maintain wildlife habitat connectivity.