Africa says goodbye to one of its most iconic lions: Loonkito, a male known for his advanced age, 19 years, much longer than the average lifespan of lions of his sex, which is around 11 years.
"It is with a heavy heart that we share the news of the passing of Loonkiito (2004 - 2023), the oldest male lion in our ecosystem and possibly in Africa. He died yesterday, May 10, 2023 at the age of 19. He was a symbol of resilience and coexistence", confirmed the local Lion Guardians association on its social networks.
According to reports by the conservation NGO Big Life Foundation, a group of herders killed the animal in southern Kenya, after the animal entered a community to attack domestic livestock.
The lion entered a community near Amboseli National Park on Wednesday. The animal was seen by a group of herdsmen, who killed it with spears before it could attack cattle, according to a witness account collected by the Kenyan Daily Nation newspaper. Loonkito was weak due to his old age, although he could not recover from the spear wounds in the head area, this witness continues.
The confrontations have intensified with the lack of water. "The herders are on high alert to protect the few animals that have survived a recent severe drought," explained the coordinator of the Big Life Foundation's compensation programs for damage to lions and other large predators, Daniel Sampu, in statements collected by the local media.
Conflicts between lions and inhabitants are frequent. The latest occurred last Saturday, when six lions were killed in Amboseli national park, after a group of nine subadult lions stormed a cattle enclosure near the town of Mbirikani, killing 12 goats and a dog.
“This isolated but tragic incident is a stark illustration of the challenges in ensuring coexistence between humans and wildlife. This incident exemplifies the continuing need for Big Life's predator protection programs," they explain from this NGO.
According to this organization, there are currently some thirty thousand lions in Africa, and their populations continue to decline, according to the latest data from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN, for its acronym in English).
Between 1993 and 2014, lion populations fell by 43%, mainly due to the loss of their habitats and conflicts between these animals and human communities, which sometimes attack cats to protect their livestock. In fact, this species was on the verge of extinction in southern Kenya at the beginning of this century, although the efforts of conservation NGOs meant that a good number of specimens were recovered in the park.