Wildlife officials have reported that three lions from a popular TV program have died after being poisoned.
Just a few months after the highly-publicized death of Cecil, the National Geographic reports that three more lions have been killed after consuming a cow carcass laced with poison. But rather than for sport or illegal profit, the predators may have been killed simply out of spite.
The lions living in the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya had been covered extensively in the popular BBC series “Big Cat Diary.” The BBC reports that the incident was first discovered when their film crew observed a lioness named Bibi panting and foaming at the mouth.
On Sunday, Bibi was confirmed dead. Officials also found the body of a second lioness believed to be Siena, which had been partially consumed by hyenas. A third lion, Alan, was later euthanized after the poison left him weak and led to him being trampled by buffalo.
The poisoned carcass also left at least eight other lions sickened, and has killed off 11 vultures so far.
The rest of the lion pride is accounted for and is under surveillance for their protection, while the poisoned lions are undergoing medical treatment. The poison used is believed to be carbofuran, a highly-toxic pesticide, although authorities are conducting necropsies on the lions to confirm that.
The incident has saddened and infuriated conservationists who live and work on the African reserve. “I’m madder than a spitfire, and my heart is just absolutely aching,” Anne Kent Taylor, a conservationist at Masai Mara told National Geographic.
Authorities arrested two Massai herdsmen on Tuesday in connection with the attack. Authorities have also retained a third person as a witness for the prosecution, and are seeking a fourth suspect.
While it’s still unclear who is behind the poisoning and their motives, National Geographic reports that in the past some villagers have poisoned lions to prevent them from attacking their livestock. While illegal, Maasai herders have moved more of their cattle into the reserve in recent year, invariably setting up circumstances for a confrontation with the big cats.
As cattle chase away the lion’s natural prey, the big cats are pushed to the outskirts of the reserve. As a result, they may occasionally feed on the Maasai’s cattle, and the villagers in turn retaliate against the lions.
Lion numbers in Africa have been devastated during the past decade, decreasing by about 50% since 2003. The National Geographic’s Big Cat Initiative estimates there may be as few as 20,000 left in the wild, and believes major conservation efforts will be needed to keep the population from suffering further.