No tranquilisers, so famous lion killed

By Kevin Sieff

A ranger shot Mohawk, one of the best known big cats, after he strayed from Nairobi National Park. Picture / AP
A ranger shot Mohawk, one of the best known big cats, after he strayed from Nairobi National Park. Picture / AP

Mohawk the lion, one of Kenya's most famous big cats, was fatally shot yesterday by wildlife rangers. In a country that has invested millions in protecting its wildlife, Kenyans are trying to figure out what went wrong.

The rangers had no tranquilisers, only rifles. A veterinary team was on its way, but the rangers shot the lion anyway, saying he posed an immediate threat to human life.

"We lost one of our best lions," said Nelly Palmeris, a senior park warden at Nairobi National Park.

A group of men had surrounded the lion in the town of Isinya, 32km from Nairobi. They took pictures. They threw rocks at him. Finally, Mohawk raised his paw and thrashed one of the men.

"When it injured that person, it became imminent to us that it could lead to a worse situation and it had to be brought down," said Paul Gathitu, a spokesman for Kenya Wildlife Services.

In pictures of the shooting, the lion appears to be walking on an unpopulated stretch of farmland when a ranger shoots.

"I am outraged, disgusted and grossly disappointed with Kenya Wildlife Services," Aisha Tande, a Nairobi resident, tweeted.

In Nairobi, Mohawk - with a shock of hair rising from his head - was well known to tourists, a lion accustomed to the sight of safari trucks and camera-toting visitors.

This was the third time in two months that lions had escaped from Nairobi National Park. One found its way to a military barracks, another to land near the international airport.

The population around the park has grown more than tenfold since it was established in 1946. Where the lions once would have wandered peacefully, they now encounter suburbs, farms and commercial buildings.

Mohawk had escaped from Nairobi National Park two days ago, forced out in a territorial dispute with another lion. So he walked south, looking for another place to roam, slipping through an unfenced portion of the park.

In another corner of Africa yesterday, another lion named Sylvester was being hunted after escaping from Karoo National Park and wildlife officials said he posed a threat. They prepared to kill him.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature considers the African lion a "vulnerable" species. A study last year found its population had declined by 50 per cent in the past 20 years.

- Washington Post

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