By,Kizito Makoye Shigela
Three children were mauled to death, one was seriously injured in Ngorongoro,Arusha region.Shock, fear a myriad of emotions engulfed 11 –year old Kiambwa Lekitony when a stalking lioness leaped on his brother, using her strong front paws slapped him by his legs to wrestle him, bite his throat and killed him instantly. Distraught, Lekitony, who was painfully aware of the danger he was facing, climbed on a tree to save his life.
In the fateful evening, Lekitony, a standard-three pupil at Ngoile primary school Orbalbal Ward in Tanzania’s northern Ngorongoro, district and his three brothers went to the bush to look for lost cattle only to face the wrath of a lioness. The youngsters, who allowed themselves to be lulled into false sense of security, were stalked by a lioness which mauled and ate them.
The stray lioness, one of the animals tracked and monitored by the VHF collar in the so-called “Good neighbourhood”(Kopelion) project in the Ngorongoro Conservation area is due to be tracked and relocate them away from human settlement, officials said.
Nginanu Meagie, a resident of Ngoile village, said when it was certain the children had gone missing, they launched a manhunt in dew-laden forest, and woke up to a grim reality three of them had been eaten to the bones and one of them sustained serious injuries. The incident highlights increasing hostility between humans and wild animals. Lekitony, who is receiving medical treatment, sustained serious injuries from the attack, local residents said.
Daniel Orkery, a former ward councillor in Ngorongoro who saw the remains of the attacked children said, they were more likely eaten by a lioness with cubs.
“Normally when a lion attacks a human, the ambush is only to weaken you so that the predator can escape, but when you see those children were eaten, probably the lioness was hungry, which is unlikely because there’s a lot of game in Ngorongoro, or their remains were probably eaten by hyenas after the lion had left,” he said.
His theory is supported by Emmanuel Shangai, the chairman of the Ngorongoro district council who affirmed lions hardly attack children.
“Lions rarely attack children, the worse they can do is to threaten them. This sudden change of their behaviour has shocked us,” he said.
Shangai said although not all lions are hostile, local residents in Ngorongoro have observed an unusual change of lions’ behaviour in the past three years as incidents of people being attacked by lions increase. He accused Kopelion—a local NGO claiming to foster humans-lions co-existence for ignoring the safety of children whose future dreams have been so suddenly dashed.
“Kopelion cannot escape the blame. They failed to track movement of their lions which attack people,” he said.
Shangai said, Kopelion whose motto is “Bring back the lions” has been bringing exotic lion breed to Ngorongoro in an effort to beef up t dwindling population of wild cats.
“We see them many times, carrying animals in stretchers,” he said.
Kopelion, an Ngorongoro based non-profit founded in 2011, is working with local Maasai communities to foster friendly human- lions interaction as part of a broader mission to diffuse hostility between humans and wildlife.
The organisation, which employs local scientists and international researchers, is using state-of-the art GPS technology to track the movement of lions in real time, study their behaviour and share the information with the local community. The group claims it is helping Maasai communities by tracing their lost livestock, help reinforce Bomas, and alert them whenever there’s danger.
The lions, known by their deafening roar are endangered animals believed to be on the verge of extinction as their population continues to dwindle. The lion population in Africa has substantially plummeted by 43% in the last two decades to 20,000, according to International Union for Nature Conservation (IUNC). As human population increase and encroach on wildlife habitats, conflict between people and lions intensify.
William Oleseki, Kopelion founder said the lioness attack which killed children last week has saddened him but should be used to re-examine existing human interaction with lions.
“Such a sudden change of lion’s behaviour is very shocking, “he said.
Oleseki admitted that the children were mauled by one of the lion his organisation monitors adding that the incident was unique and happened for the first time in three years. According to him the marauding cat is not new to the area but plans are underway to translocate her away from human settlement. Oleseki said Kopelion has trained 25 young Maasai warriors to monitor the lions whenever they stray to areas used by herders. Oleseki said when lions attack humans it is usual lone male lion who prey on soft targets. “This sudden change of behaviour suggest the lions, probably no longer fear humans,” Says Oleseki.
Oleseki said as an organisation they don’t have the means and know-how to translocate animals or restrict their movements.
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is a UNESCO’s World Heritage site known for its dazzling landscape, volcanic highlands dense mountain forests, vast plains and wildlife. Although the Maasai, a semi-nomadic ethnic group, known for their dazzling lobes and distended earlobes have for decades lived harmoniously with wildlife, their relations with man-eating lions has always not been at ease.
“In Maasai culture when a lion develops behaviour of eating livestock and people it has to be hunted down and be killed by brave morans because our culture doesn’t allow to live with animals of that behavior” said Onesmo Ole Ngurumwa, a renowned human-rights activist from Ngorongoro and national Coordinator of the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC).
Ole Ngurumwa said Maasai children always take livestock for grazing and are hardly attacked by lions.
“It is very strange to see lions killing people… such behaviour suggests the lions are not native to the area,” he said.
Yannick Ndoinyo, Director – Traditional Ecosystems Survival Tanzania (TEST)—an NGO working to empower indigenous and local communities to secure, plan, manage and utilize land’s resources said, affirmed that there’s no silver-bullet to ease human-wild life conflicts, which have been happening in the Maasai steppe since time immemorial.
He urged the government and other stakeholders to harness modern communication technology to track dangerous animals. He said afflicted families should also be fairly compensated for the loss of life.
“The actual amount of money paid for the loss of life as it stands doesn’t exceed 500,000” Ndoinyo blamed Kopalion for the Tuesday attack claiming the organisation failed to monitor and track movement of the lions it’s protecting.
“The villager should have been warned on the presence of lions in the area,” he said.
According to Ole Ngurumwa, Ngorongoro is not a disturbed ecosystem and animals and people have always been living harmoniously although there is a myriad of efforts are to take away the natural life thus creating unnecessary tension with wildlife.
“Humans and wild animal usually co-exist and live together without confrontation in Ngorongoro.. sometimes zebras and giraffe come and take refuge on human shelters to protect themselves from predators,” he said
“When you go for grazing you find yourself surrounded by leopards, lions buffalos and they don’t harm you,” he said.
According to him, it is not unusual to see buffalo grazing near Maasai Bomas in Ngorongoro and sometimes cattle freely mingle with other wild animals.
“This is the sort of life we need to maintain let’s not disturb and change the ecosystem” he stressed.
Ole Ngurumwa warned that the human-wildlife conflict should not be taken as a ticket to evict native people from Ngorongoro.
Ole Ngurumwa said there’s lack of system for documenting trends and patterns of human and livestock casualties inflicted by lions and other predatory wild animals. According to him study after study indicate between 2004 and 2010 about 200 people have been killed annually by wild animals notably lions in Tanzania especially near Selous national park northern Tanzania.
“ I advise the government to do something to reduce conflict between animals and villagers and also to improve documentation of incidents,” he said
Ole Ngurumwa said the actual population of lions in the Ngorongoro crater (not the entire District), which was about 60 lions in 1960’s before it was decimated to 15 when a flies epidemic hit before it rose again to 70 or 80, is not known.
“ In our Sakala village in Loliondo we used to hear lion roaring around but as of today we no longer hear that” he said adding
“The change in lion’s population is influenced by multiple factors including climate change, natural incidents and change of human activities in our district” He added