NAIROBI, Kenya (RNS) A Catholic priest has denounced the killings of two legendary lions, one violently speared by a Maasai warrior, outside the city’s famous national park.
Lions and other wildlife roam freely in the wild in the 45 square-mile Nairobi National Park. A popular tourist destination, the park is only a short drive from the central business district and has earned Nairobi the distinction of the world’s wildlife capital.
But in recent months, prides of lions have strayed into city streets and residential areas four times, causing anxiety among conservationists and wildlife rangers.
“I urge compassion for these animals,” said the Rev. Charles Odira, a priest who heads the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Commission for Lay Apostolate. “The lions are precious and must be protected.”
Poaching has decimated the populations of lions, elephants and rhinos across Africa, as people increasingly encroach on parks and safaris.
On March 31, a Maasai tribesman speared a lion known as Lemek, after it wandered out of the park. The previous day, a lion known as Mohawk was shot dead by a ranger after it clawed a motorcyclist in Kajiado area near Nairobi.
The killing sparked outrage from the public and conservationists who wondered why the rangers did not tranquilize the animal.
“The few lions we have must not be killed carelessly,” said Odira. “They deserve to live and enrich our ecosystem.”
The park has about 35 lions.
Kenya Wildlife Service officials say it’s not unusual for animals to wander outside the park, but the construction of a new road and railway line on the edge of the park is interfering with the animals’ lives.
Apart from the noise, workers on railway lines accidentally cut off the power to an electric fence that deters the animals from wandering outside the park.
“Once out of the park, people have been gathering to see the animals. With vehicles honking and people shouting, the animals have been getting agitated,” said Paul Udoto, a wildlife service spokesman. “If they are left alone, they will wander back to their habitat.”
The service has urged people living near parks to be vigilant but warned against harming the lions.
(Fredrick Nzwili is an RNS correspondent based in Nairobi)