Saving Kenya's lions

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KATY CLARK: The East African nation of Kenya has 35 national parks and game reserves. The parks attract tourists who come to see wildlife, and at the top of the list of must-see animals is the lion, but t Africa's lions are dwindling. In response, some Kenyan conservationists are pushing a controversial proposal. They say to save the lions, lions must be hunted. The World's Andrea Crossan reports.

ANDREA CROSSAN: It's dusk on the African Savanna, and the sounds are typical, lions and hyenas fighting over a dead impala. But tonight there are no lions or hyenas here. The animal cries come from a CD, played over a large speaker in front of a safari truck. The man behind the wheel is lion conservationist Lawrence Frank. He's trying to lure the big cats by tricking them, pretending there's been a fresh kill. So far, no luck.

LAWRENCE FRANK: The only collared lions we could find are very far away from here so they probably didn't even hear all our efforts.

CROSSAN: Lawrence Frank has put radio collars on lions to study them. He heads the organization Living with Lions. He's working to save Kenya's remaining wild lions and other predators living outside national parks. It's an increasingly difficult job. Here in the Northern Kenyan district of Laikipia, more and more land is being converted from wildlife habitat to farms and that's bad for lions.

FRANK: When the young lions move out of their prides into the community areas there is so little wildlife there, and so much livestock that they start taking livestock they're promptly poisoned.

CROSSAN: Poisoned by farmers. For a small farmer, losing even one animal to a lion can be huge financial loss. Lawrence Frank says it's easy for Westerners to criticize farmers who retaliate against stock-killing lions, but you have to put yourself in the farmers' shoes.

FRANK: We like to sit in our New York apartments or our san Francisco houses and think about all the wonderful wildlife in Africa and watch them on the Disney Channel. And yet, we wouldn't dream of tolerating grizzly bears and wolves and mountain lions where we live.

CROSSAN: Actually, some Americans do tolerate large predators, but then in the U.S. sport hunting is legal. That's how states manage wildlife populations and raise revenue for conservation. In Kenya, sport hunting has been outlawed since 1977. Frank and some other conservationists say it's time to change that. They argue that if Kenya's lions could be hunted, farmers could make money allowing trophy hunters on their land. And those farmers would then have a stake in protecting lions as a species even if individual lions were killed from time to time. Kenya's Vice President, Kalonzo Musyoka, says his government does not currently plan to lift the hunting ban, but he admits the move would be popular in some quarters.

KALONZO MUSYOKA: I know that Arabs from the Middle Eastern countries would love to come and set camp here and hunt and kill. And, you know, we have also to protect and, therefore, there's a need to strike a balance again.

CROSSAN: Striking that balance could be difficult. Many conservationists say that allowing any hunting could quickly lead to over-hunting, and put lions in an even more precarious state. Will Travers is Chief Executive of the Born Free Foundation, an animal protection group. He says that Kenya makes a lot of money as it is from wildlife tourism, and more of that money should be used to help farmers who lose their cattle and sheep to lions.

WILL TRAVERS: There's a billion dollars going into the Kenyan economy. And it's important that significant amount of that goes to rural communities and is linked to the fact that that the money is coming from wildlife tourism so that local communities can indeed appreciate that their health services, and their education services, and their infrastructure services are being supported by wildlife.

CROSSAN: While this political and academic fight goes on, a new threat is harming both livestock and lions. Kenya has been hit by a devastating drought. Rivers are drying up and grasslands have become parched dust bowls. On this night, Lawrence Frank's CD of recorded lions hasn't drawn in any real lions. The only animals that have come to investigate are hyenas. So Frank packs up his speaker and heads home.

FRANK: But of course you know it's always a crap shoot. So, you try it. Sometimes it works.

CROSSAN: He knows the lions are out there. At least they are for now. For the World, I'm Andrea Crossan, Laikipia, Kenya.