Lions in danger in Kenya's Amboseli park

WASHINGTON "The situation has reached a critical level," said Terry Garcia, executive vice president at National Geographic Society. "Unless something is done immediately, there will be no more lions in this part of Kenya, which would be a tragedy."

Fewer than 100 lions are estimated to remain in the 2,200-square-mile region at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro on the Kenya-Tanzania border, the society said. Lions are a major attraction at Amboseli, a popular visiting spot for tourists.

A major reason for the decline of the lions, researchers say, is spearing and poisoning by local Maasai, whose society depends on raising cattle.

National Geographic announced it is making an emergency grant of $150,000 to the Maasailand Preservation Trust to support a compensation fund for herdsmen whose livestock are killed by lions in and around Amboseli.

Such compensation plans have succeeded in other areas, according to the conservation group Living with Lions.

Between 2003 and 2007, a total of 63 lions were killed in properties owned by the Maasai, Kuku Group Ranch and Olgulului Group Ranch, said Laurence Frank, director of Living with Lions. "On Mbirikani Ranch, where compensation began in 2003, only four lions were killed due to predator-livestock conflict during the same period."

Frank said that in 2006 there was a sharp spike in killings in Maasailand. "Two years later, rates are not as high, but the killings continue to be bad enough that if something is not done immediately, we will see these lions go extinct locally in just a few years."

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