Kenya is annually losing an average of 100 of its 2,000 lions due to growing human settlements, increasing farming, climate change and disease, according to the Kenya Wildlife Service.
“Lions have a special place in Kenyans’ livelihood and conservation efforts,” said Paul Udoto, a spokesman for the organisation.
“Other than being the symbol for national strength, they are among the Big Five, a major attraction for visitors to Kenya.”
There were 2,749 lions in Kenya in 2002 and their population dropped to 2,280 by 2004 and to roughly 2,000 today, according to KWS figures.
“The trend of lion population decline is disturbing and every effort needs to be made to ensure that Kenya either stabilises its population at the current population of 2,000 lions or increases the numbers to an ecologically acceptable level,” said Mr Udoto.
“Quick and decisive actions need to be taken to create public awareness as well as formulation of national guidelines on lion conservation and management in the long term.”
Drought has pushed lions closer to waterholes near to human settlements, which themselves are increasing at “very high rates”, according to KWS.
“There is no doubt that the numbers are in freefall. I’d be surprised if they even last as long as 20 years,” said Laurence Frank, project director of Living With Lions, a Kenya-based conservation organisation.
“When I first came here 30 years ago, you would always hear lions roaring across the rangelands at night and see their tracks in the morning. Now that is very rare.
“The reason is simple, lions eat cattle, and as the numbers of people grow, the numbers of cows increase. Alongside that there are ever more efficient ways, including poisoning, to kill lions.”
Monday’s warning came as conservationists were finalising work on a fresh strategy to save the animals which is due to be launched next month.
Part of the fight-back will include tracking lions fitted with radio collars in the Amboseli area in southern Kenya, close to the border with Tanzania.
Wildlife officials in Tanzania face similar challenges in protecting their lions, but there is far less human encroachment on the animals’ habitat there than in Kenya.