A Kenyan lion named Karel: 10 years of conservation research
In honour of 10 years of cooperation between Kenya Wildlife Service and Leiden University, a Leiden delegation visited Nairobi National Park. To cement the cooperation, a lion in the park was collared and named Karel, which in Dutch literally means ‘free man.’ It will be monitored through satellite tracking in the next two years.
About 2,000 Kenyan lions share their country with a growing human and livestock population. Factors such as a growing demand for land and climate change have a severe impact on the lion population. To study these effects and to preserve the decreasing population, the Institute of Environmental Sciences (CML) of Leiden University and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) began collaboration in 2007.
From livestock caretaker to PhD
It started in Amboseli National Park with a focus on human – carnivore conflicts. The first PhD project was executed by Tuqa Jirmo. He came from a nomadic community in northern Kenya and as a boy had taken care of livestock. After his successful PdD defense, he worked as a senior warden for KWS in Meru-Kora National Park. A total of twenty master students of Leiden University participated in his research.
Currently Francis Lesilau, who is currently Deputy Director Wildlife Protection, is carrying out PhD research on human carnivore conflicts in Nairobi National Park. So far in his research, ten master students have contributed, and benefited from the project.
Lions as main carnivores
Both Kenyan PhD students focused on lions as the main carnivore. At the moment there are about 2,000 lions in Kenya. Their numberis decreasing due to the growing demand for land from a growing number of people and livestock over time. Although lions are mostly found inside national parks, they also regularly leave parks and enter the human dominated landscape. Here people and livestock are confronted by the lions, thus human-wildlife conflict.
Climate change and flashlights
The first study in Amboseli National Park covered the impact of climate change on the distribution and movements of the lions. The current study in Nairobi National Park also focuses on how to mitigate the conflicts. It addresses the question whether flashlights on livestock boma’s (kraal) are effective to reduce the killings of livestock during the night.
During the long-lasting cooperation researchers and students worked with satellite collaring of lions to get GPS data about movements, diet, social structure of the lion populations. This fundamental knowledge is now used for science based management and conservation by KWS. In that sense the program is a unique combination between university research and practical conservation management.
Leiden delegation in Kenya
A delegation of Professor Hans de Iongh of CML and Professor Geert de Snoo, dean of the Faculty of Science, visited KWS acting Director General Mr. Julius Kimani and Deputy Director Biodiversity Research and Monitoring Doctor Samuel Kasiki in Kenya. The purpose of the visit was to strengthen the collaboration between the two institutions.
The delegation also visited Nakuru National Park and the Maasai Mara reserve. The strategic research agenda concerning wildlife conservation was discussed with the senior wardens and researchers of the Cheetah and Lion project in the Maasai Mara.