Lions kill villagers after militiamen steal cubs

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The Independent Online

At least three villagers are reported to have been killed in eastern Kenya by lions besieging villages in an attempt to find their offspring.

Senior politicians in the Garissa region said the attacks began after a Somali militia near the border with Kenya stole three cubs.

Witnesses claim a pride of 15 lions attacked homes in Liboi and Kulan in the Garissa district on Sunday night, while villagers were asleep. Police reported that at least three people died and a further two were seriously injured.

The attack follows a series of incidents over the past two weeks in which herdsmen in Garissa have been attacked by lions. One man was mauled to death as he fetched water from a well. In a similar attack, a pride of 10 lions encircled villagers retrieving water at a well in Liboi, before police intervened.

Lions even invaded the local police station, allegedly forcing armed officers to run away in terror. As well as targeting humans, the lions have killed about 50 goats and more than a dozen cows.

Most of the attacks have been on herdsmen in the countryside. But on one occasion the lions wandered into the main town of Liboi, 10 miles from the Somali border. Police officers fired into the air as people ran for safety.

Abdullahi Rage, the area chief, said deaths were only just starting to be confirmed. Some of the victims were initially reported as missing, but their bodies were later discovered in the bush. Mr Rage said 23 lions had been spotted in the area.

Local politicians have called on the Kenyan government to help protect residents from the lions and to compensate the families of the victims. They have also suggested cross-border meetings with Somali community leaders in an attempt to secure the release of the cubs and prevent further kidnappings.

Officials from the Kenya Wildlife Service have twice tried to retrieve the cubs from the Somali militiamen. But their attempts at negotiation have been rebuffed. It is claimed the militiamen demanded a ransom for the return of the cubs.

According to pastoralists who witnessed the kidnapping, soldiers belonging to the Somalia Patriotic Movement, based in the Somali town of Dobley 20 miles from the border, took the cubs from a lioness two weeks ago. They fired several shots into the air as the other lions in the pride charged at them.

While attacks have been documented in Kenya it is not yet known how many people have been killed by the lions within Somalia.

The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) said it suspected the militia men were paid to steal the cubs, which were then sold at markets in Somalia. But, the KWS, which has been criticised for not containing the lions, disputed the number of people who had died. A spokesman for the organisation claimed that only one person had so far been killed. "We have sent our people on to the ground. If the lions are a threat, appropriate action will be taken," said Gichuki Kabukuru of the KWS.