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Giving Mother Nature a boost: Wildlife officials in Kenya moving zebras, wildebeests to help lions

Zebras

Kenyan authorities on Wednesday began a plan to restore the predator-prey balance in one of the country's premier game parks after a recent drought -- by moving thousands of zebras and wildebeests closer to the lions.

As the sun rose over the 44,000-acre Soysambu Conservancy, a herd of dozens of terrified zebras stampeded as a helicopter buzzed overhead, sending them into a funnel-like trap and into waiting trucks. After three trips, the helicopter had helped capture 88 zebras. Earlier in the week, 49 were herded.

At the end of a three-week operation, the Kenya Wildlife Service aims to relocate 4,000 zebras from different parts of the country to Amboseli National Park. In March, after the wildebeests have finished giving birth, the service plans to move 3,000 of them to the park.

The more fortunate animals will enjoy the environs of Amboseli, a key sanctuary for animals in southwestern Kenya during the dry season because it usually has pasture and water when surrounding areas are dry.

The less fortunate ones will end up in the stomachs of the park's hungry lions, who have been forced by drought to hunt the goats and cattle kept by the nearby Maasai herdsmen.

Lions at Kenya's Amboseli National Park

"We have been hearing reports of a few carcasses [of livestock] found each day," said Charles Musyoki, a senior scientist at the Kenya Wildlife Service.

"When we move the zebras and wildebeests, we will now be increasing the number and thereby making them available to the carnivores and this will make the carnivores reduce their dependence on livestock" for food, Musyoki said.

Frances Gakuya of the Kenya Wildlife Service says the relocation will cost $1.3 million, which will go toward financing transport to and from Amboseli as well as the upkeep of the 22-member team working to move the animals.

Amboseli is among the top revenue earners of Kenya's more than 40 national parks and reserves.

Musyoki said the decline in Amboseli's zebra and wildebeest populations has been as high as 90% compared with a peak in 2007.

That year there were an estimated 10,000 zebras. He said that when scientists from the wildlife service did a count Feb. 6 there were 982. Similarly in 2007, there were 7,100 wildebeests, compared with 143 on Feb. 6, Musyoki said.

He said that such a devastating drought has never been recorded before in Amboseli and that elders in surrounding areas have told him they do not remember anything like it.

"We've never seen such drastic climate in recent times," Musyoki said.

Zebras

-- Associated Press

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Top photo: Wild zebras stand in a makeshift pen on Feb. 10 after being rounded up by Kenya Wildlife Service officers. Credit: Tony Karumba / AFP/Getty Images

Middle photo: Two lions relax in the early-morning sun at Amboseli National Park in 2006. Credit: Karel Prinsloo / Associated Press

Bottom photo: Zebras stand in a lorry to be transported to Amboseli on Feb. 10. Credit: Tony Karumba / AFP/Getty Images

 
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