Rangers killed one of Kenya's most famous lions because they were out of tranquilisers

WARNING: Image may disturb some people.
Mohawk the lion was one of Kenya's most famous big cats. Photo / Samantha Spooner Twitter
Mohawk the lion was one of Kenya's most famous big cats. Photo / Samantha Spooner Twitter

Mohawk the lion, one of Kenya's most famous big cats, was fatally shot Wednesday 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.

It turns out that a group of men had surrounded the lion in the town of Isinya, 20 miles from Nairobi, the capital. 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 takes aim, striking the animal's right leg.

"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 that had become accustomed to the sight of safari trucks and camera-toting visitors. He was featured in a local newspaper's travel article last year.

"Mohawk did not appear to be concerned about all the cars behind him and he continued to walk at a leisurely pace as he enjoyed the freshness of the morning," Gareth Jones wrote in the Star newspaper.

A ranger from the Kenya Wildlife Service shoots dead a male lion that had strayed from the Nairobi National Park. Photo / AP
A ranger from the Kenya Wildlife Service shoots dead a male lion that had strayed from the Nairobi National Park. Photo / AP

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 a strip of 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. If Mohawk hadn't been surrounded, he wouldn't have been shot.

He 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 on Wednesday, another lion was being hunted after escaping from a park.

In South Africa, a lion named Sylvester had escaped from Karoo National Park. Like in Kenya, wildlife officials said he posed a threat. On Wednesday, they prepared to kill him.

"The decision taken earlier today to put him down was not taken lightly," South African National Parks tweeted.

"He is clearly a troublesome lion and could be a danger to humans," Reynold Thakhuli, a spokesman for South African National Parks, told Agence France-Presse.

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

- Washington Post

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