Kenya has never had a lion census but may have fewer than 2,000 lions

What is the future of lions in Kenya?

Call to invest in the cats in urgent race to save species

BY PAULINE KAIRU - DN - 21. August 2019

One century ago there were 200,000 lions. Today, there are approximately just over 20,000, a landmark lion conservation report said on Saturday.

According to the report, the king of the jungle that once roamed Europe to the southern tip of Africa and West Africa all the way to India, has today been restricted to just eight per cent of their historic range. With current populations now restricted to pockets of Sub-Saharan Africa and a small population in Northern India.

In Africa, where most of the world’s last lion population still survives, things are not well for the species. Populations are collapsing fast and lions have already disappeared from many African countries. 

Kenya is one of the last countries where lions still reside in the wild. But things are far from rosy here either. The Kenya Wildlife Service announced in February the country was losing at least 100 lions every year. 


Yet, Kenya’s population is estimated to stand at less than 2,000 cats.

In West Africa, the species is currently classified as “Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a global organisation working towards conservation and sustainable use of natural resources. Overall, within Africa, the species, has suffered a steep decline in both numbers and habitat, and in the last 25 years, lion numbers have declined by half and the decline continues.

Southern and East African lions are listed as being “vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List.

In a stark warning that hopes to stimulate new levels of financial commitment by African countries, the new report, The New Lion Economy: Unlocking the value of lions and their landscapes, that highlights challenges facing the species including diminishing habitats and human-lion conflict, cautions: “Given this drastic loss, African states must work to restore the health of their landscapes and reduce the cost borne by communities when living with lions so that they can support their protection.”
The new report from Equilibrium Research, commissioned by the Lion Recovery Fund (LRF) for World Lion Day 2019, held August 10 annually, says lion survival depends on Africa yet the continent’s governments focused on building economies and eliminating poverty, have neglected spending on conservation. 

The LRF hopes to recover the decimated half of the African lion population of approximately 40,000 by 2050.


The report observes that the fate of lions is largely determined by the actions of resident or nomadic people living alongside them. Habitat loss in protected areas is associated with land-use competition and unrestricted human settlement.

In February, Dr John Waithaka, the director of Africa Protected Areas Congress and co-chair of IUCN, while speaking about the lion population said: “Loss of habitat and biodiversity due to corruption, climate change, poverty, poaching, retaliatory killing and increased human population pose the greatest threat to conservation of wildlife, protected areas and the country’s ecosystem.” 

In recent years, there has been a spike in the poaching of lions for their body parts such as skin, claws, teeth and bones. However, the drivers of such poaching and trade are currently poorly understood. 

The report enumerates how states can unravel the social economic and environmental value associated with lions and their habitats. Offering evidence of options for managing lions and reducing conflict between them and the people who share their rangelands, to show that conflict is not unavoidable and unresolvable.


The authors call for economic development and investment in ecosystem services to support both lions and humans in rangelands where the remaining cats roam.

Unfortunately, Kenya has never taken a lion census. LRF is funding Kenya Wildlife Trust to implement a national survey of northern Kenya, where the least is known about the status and distribution of lions. This survey will help in conservation planning to protect key populations of lions.

“The Olkiramatian and Shompole Group Ranches of Kenya’s South Rift region retain traditional methods of pastoralist livestock husbandry and demonstrate how to create a financially viable model of coexistence with carnivores outside of protected areas,” notes the report.

The conservationists link the proliferation of the species to the greater well-being of general wildlife and essential ecosystem services and point to a missed opportunity in the connection of wildlife to the socio-economic gains.

“(In spite of) many leaders seeing destruction of the environment and wildlife crime as an existential threat, they don’t relate it to their national economic ambitions,” notes Chief Executive Officer African Wildlife Foundation, Kaddu Kiwe Sebunya.
He said lions will not survive the 21st century on goodwill alone. Nor will they survive if “reduced to being merely the centrepiece of a high status vacation for foreign visitors to the continent, or even the target of trophy hunters.

(*) Author

Pauline Kairu

If you are interested to support successful lion protection in Kenya and Somalia, please write to


One reason for the decline in the lion population in Kenya is described here:

Kenya – after poisonings is the Marsh in Maasai Mara a no-go area for lions?

The Marsh Pride: The Future?

By Jonathan and Angela Scott - 09. December 2015

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The Paradis Pride who share the same pride males – the 4 Musketeers – with the Marsh Pride.

The poisoning of members of the Marsh Pride will make a sorry end note to our Autobiography (Published by Bradt in August 2016). To be honest there is no longer a Marsh Pride – the Musiara Marsh area that gave the pride its name has become a ‘no go area’ for a proper pride with nowhere safe for them to breed now that Bila Shaka and the Marsh are cattle country. Remnants of the Marsh Pride are eking out an existence wherever they can – along Rhino Ridge and over on Paradise or keeping to the fringes of the riverine forest. But that means trying to avoid hostility from neighboring prides. Prime lion territory is fiercely contested – nobody is willing to cut any slack to their neighbors.

We do retain hope that all the furore over this incident may force some changes. The problem is ‘Where do all those cattle go?’ Sub-Division of Masailand has changed the landscape around the Reserve – it is no longer suitable in the main for large scale pastoralism. One suggestion is to set aside some of the Greater Mara as pasture for cattle that could be used on a rotational basis. In the Wildlife Conservancies surrounding the Reserve, use of the land for wildlife based tourism exists alongside pastoralism by rotational use of the area – tourists and cattle avoid being in the same place at the same time. Ideally of course it should be an absolute given that no cattle be allowed inside the Reserve – day or night. But with night time grazing becoming the accepted norm with the authorities simply pretending it isn’t happening, how do you revert to a NO CATTLE INSIDE THE RESERVE regime? The damage to the ecosystem by unregulated cattle incursions has been documented by the Hyena Research Team at Talek – showing a loss of biodiversity (less pasture for wild herbivores) and a drop in lion numbers, among other findings. There are no easy solutions to please everyone. We must try to think of the Masai Mara as sacred again – a place where wild animals can live in safety from humans. If we cannot set aside an area of just 1500 sq km for that purpose what hope is there?

There is no question that this has been a public relations disaster for the Masai Mara and Kenya. The Marsh Pride, along with the other star big cats such as Kike and Half-Tail, Bella, Honey and Toto, brought a sense of wonder and joy to millions of people around the world. Big Cat Diary changed people’s lives and promoted Kenya Tourism the world over. We can only hope that the fate of the Marsh Pride will prompt the relevant authorities in government to address the issues that have plighted the reputation of the Masai Mara for years. If it does that then something positive will have come of this and a new Marsh Pride will be able to reclaim the land of the lion around Musiara Marsh and Bila Shaka.


Shrinking Prides: The struggling Lion

Published by ecolife on

A pride consists of about one dominant male lion, several lionesses (female lion) and cubs both males and females and of different ages. How much do you know about the king and his pride?

This is one kingdom that has been on the decline over the years. The numbers are not in their favor. The lion is currently listed as ‘vulnerable’ on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. In West Africa, the species is now classified as “Critically Endangered (

About 50 years back lions used to exist in their thousands, about 400,000 across Africa. Currently we only have an estimated 20,000 in 27 countries globally. 26 of these countries are African and one Asian. Here in Kenya, we have around 2000 lions.



1. Habitat loss: most of the historic lion habitats have been shrinking as our populations increase. Right now the problem that has resulted is human-wildlife conflict; whereby lions now hunt livestock and the result is they also get hunted down and killed in retaliation.

2. House fighting: this is also a side effect of shrinking territories; the same territories are constantly fought over and as a new male takes over the pride, it kills all other cubs, further reducing their number

3. Poaching: most lions are hunted and killed for their beautiful coats and manes. The heads are kept as trophies, traditionally to signify strength and might. Trophy hunting is still practiced in9 African countries. Asian countries use the lion bones for medicinal purposes, although this has been proven to be a myth. Additionally, lions are also killed for bush meat.

4. Disease: being in the wild, sometimes diseases occur and spread at a fast rate amongst the prides, causing a reduction in their numbers due to deaths.

5. Reduction in prey numbers: well this is an action-reaction kind of situation. Lions are carnivores so have to hunt down and eat prey. Their traditional preferences like zebras and antelopes are also on the constant decline, hence less food available for them.

Interesting facts:

A lion, being at the top of the food chain, has no known natural predators, well except man. This is why the lion is often referred to as ‘king of the jungle’. Their roar can be heard from as far as 8 kilometers.

The most dominant lion in the pride often tends to have a visibly darker mane (the hairs around an adult male’s head) and also, a darker mane signifies an older male. However, there have been incidences where males barely have a mane.

Have you ever noticed the end of a lion’s tale has a black tip; this is so that the cubs can see and follow the lion even in the tall savannah grass, very smart if I might add.

Lions are good in camouflage; their golden color blends in well with the tall grass in the savannah, their natural habitat. They see clearly at night; their eyesight is 8 times better than that of a human.

Two things the lions hate are hyenas and water. Hyenas often scavenge for lion kills and so do not give the lions peace as they eat and at times snatch away their kills before they eat to their fill.
Sometimes the hyenas can harm or kill lion cubs too. As for water, they love drinking it, but not getting in contact with it. The leopard and tiger are the only cats that are at peace with water. Additionally, lions can spend up to 20 minutes just drinking water, mostly after a good meal.

One thing lions and their prides love is sleeping; they can sleep or rest for up to 22 hours out of the 24 a day has. They mostly prefer hunting at night since it gets too hot in the day. This is also seen as an adaptation strategy to survive harsh dry conditions. it reduces sweating and so conserves water.

Lions are not only sleepy, but are also very patient; they can lie in wait for hours just to catch a prey.

Lions communicate with each other in different forms; from purring, snarls, liking each other and gentle head rubbing.

Conservation efforts
In the recent times there have been numerous efforts from different angles to try and improve on their numbers. This is from different entities and the government included, through the Kenya wildlife service.

Most approaches are centered towards reducing the human-wildlife conflicts and putting a stop to poaching and illegal hunting. The numbers have slightly increased and therefore giving a
cautiously positive outlook.

It is important to understand what there is to know about lions, debunk the myths and learn ways to help in their conservation and why it is important for them to exist and not go extinct. It is important to realize the value of lions now than when they are gone.