The government launched an investigation yesterday after residents of a village bordering Tarangire National Park killed six lions on New Year’s Eve.
Natural Resources and Tourism minister Lazaro Nyalandu said the investigation was aimed at identifying the ringleaders of the slaughter and bringing them to justice.
“The killing of the lions is a big blow to our efforts to conserve wildlife. It’s a blot on Tanzania’s reputation as one of the last remaining places where there are stable lion populations,” he said.
Nearly 100 people from Olasiti Village mobilised and shot dead two lions and speared four others to death after the cats attacked and killed three donkeys in a homestead.
Local leader Simon Abel told The Citizen that four villagers were mauled by lions during the “operation” and admitted to Monduli District Hospital. Two of the victims suffered serious wounds.
Mr Nyalandu urged people to report to the relevant authorities whenever wild animals strayed into human settlements instead of killing them.
Tanzania Association of Tour Operators (Tato) chairman Willy Chambullo condemned the killing of the lions, saying wildlife conservation was everybody’s responsibility.
“I wish the villagers would have asked us to compensate them for the donkeys killed by the lions. It is very hard to replace a dead lion, unlike a donkey,” he said.
Conservationists says there has been a sharp decline in the number of lions in Tanzania in the last decade, mostly due to their being killed by humans in areas bordering national parks and game reserves.
A recent survey indicates that the Tarangire-Manyara ecosystem, a key lion sanctuary, has been losing an average of 25 lions annually. Findings by the Tarangire Lion Project show 226 lions were killed between 2004-2013 in retaliation for killing livestock.
Dr Bernard Kissui, a leading lion researcher, warned that lions would be wiped out in the near future if the trend was not reversed.
“The now common killing of lions by humans poses a serious threat to the lion population in the Tarangire-Manyara ecosystem, where herders have been spearing and poisoning the animals,” he said.
The worst such recorded incident was in 2009 when villagers slaughtered 26 lions just outside Tarangire National Park.
Official estimates show that there are between 15,000 and 16,000 lions in Tanzania, mostly in national parks and game reserves with a smaller population in unprotected areas.
This is the largest lion population in Africa and about 40 per cent of the total population of lions in the world.
Wildlife experts say lions usually prey on livestock when humans encroach on their natural habitat.
The lion is the world’s only social cat, living in groups called prides.
Lions are powerful cats and are known to hunt and kill animals much larger than themselves.
Maasai elder Kishimay Ndalepoisaid the community considered lions their “natural” enemies.
“Wherever a Maasai encounters a lion, the only thing that comes to his or her mind is killing it,” he said, adding that lions are “enemy” which kill human beings and their livestock.