Hungry lions and hyenas will soon have their fill as Kenyan wildlife officials have begun ferrying thousands of zebras and wildebeests to Amboseli National Park to be their food.
Why the meals-on-wheels? The park’s lost 80-percent of its herbivores due to severe drought conditions–the worst in 26 years. As a result, the lions have taken to eating neighboring livestock. This is angering the Maasais and they’re threatening to kill even more of the endangered lions. An estimated 100 lions are killed every year by angry herders.
“It was the worst drought,” said Kentice Tikolo, spokeswoman for the Kenya Wildlife Service. “The Amboseli ecosystem was severely affected. Lots of herbivores died, carnivores don’t have anything to feed on, and have been attacking neighboring livestock.”
About 4,000 zebras and 3,000 wildebeest will be transferred to Amboseli. The zebras will go first and the wildebeests will follow, after calving season. Park officials hope they’ll breed and sustain the lions over the long term.
“There are only 2,000 lions left nationwide, and we are concerned because the numbers are dropping,” the spokeswoman said.
But don’t let that “endangered” label fool you. This is more about tourism (that is money) than anything else. The cost for these zebra-wildebeest Happy Meals is around $1.4 million.
Tourism is the second-largest source of foreign exchange in the east African nation with Amboseli being the second-highest earner. And lions are one of the top five tourist attractions along with elephants, leopards, rhinos and buffalo.
The zebras and wildebeests will be herded onto trucks using helicopters. Each truckload takes about an hour and a half to fill. From there, they’ll make the five-hour drive south to Amboseli to be released into the wild.