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Kenyan herders kill Loonkiito, one of the oldest wild lions in the world

Six other lions from the same national park were speared after they killed 11 goats in Mbirikani area, Kajiado county

This photo provided by Lion Guardians shows the male lion named "Loonkiito" in Amboseli National Park, in southern Kenya on Feb. 20, 2023.
This photo provided by Lion Guardians shows the male lion named "Loonkiito" in Amboseli National Park, in southern Kenya on Feb. 20, 2023.Philip J. Briggs (AP)

One of Kenya’s oldest wild lions was killed by herders and the government has expressed concern as six more lions were speared at another village on Saturday, bringing to 10 the number killed last week alone.

The male lion named Loonkiito was 19 years old and was described as frail by Kenya Wildlife Service spokesperson Paul Jinaro, who said it wandered out of the Amboseli national park into a village in search of food on Thursday night. African lions typically have a lifespan of 13 years in the wild, so at 19, Loonkiito was the subject of a lot of attention.

“It is with heavy hearts that we share the news of the passing of Loonkiito (2004 - 2023), the oldest male lion in our ecosystem and possibly in Africa,” conservation group Lion Guardians posted on social media.

Although Loonkiito had lost part of his mane and was weak, he was often seen with several females and their young. According to park guardians, between 2010 and 2017, he successfully defended the pride’s territory with his brother Ambogga. But six years ago, his brother was killed in a territorial dispute in which Loonkito himself was injured, and since then, he had been reigning alone.

Six other lions from the same national park were speared by herders after they killed 11 goats in Mbirikani area, Kajiado county. The deaths brought to 10 the number of lions killed by herders last week in an escalated human-wildlife conflict that has worried the government.

Tourism minister Peninah Malonza met locals in Mbirikani area on Sunday and urged them not to spear wandering lions and to instead reach out to the wildlife service.

The government and conservation groups have a compensation program for herders whose livestock is killed by wild animals.

But herders have become more protective after losing livestock to a drought that has been termed as the worst in decades in the East Africa region.

Conservation group Big Life Foundation’s Craig Miller said the killing of Loonkiito “was unfortunate” because he was the oldest lion in the Amboseli national park.

The lion is an endangered species that has lost 90% of its habitat. In barely a century, its numbers have fallen from 200,000 to 20,000, with the vast majority located in Africa, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). Shrinking savannas, poaching, increasing urbanization and conflict with herders have all contributed to the population decline. In 2021, the first wildlife census in Kenya, revealed that there were about 2,500 lion in the country.

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