Lions vs People in Tanzania

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   attacked      distribution      dwindling      flesh      harvest      pillage      researchers      resolving      trend      ultimately   

Voice of America Special English

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A growing number of people in Tanzania are being by lions, resulting in the stepped-up killing of these endangered animals. Wildlife researchers discuss the problem this week in the journal Nature. More from VOA's Jessica Berman.

BERMAN: In the past decade, there has been an upward in Tanzania in the number of rural people being killed by lions, according to Craig Packer, a professor at the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior at the University of Minnesota.

PACKER: "In the early 1990s, there might be an average of 30 or 40 cases per year, and now we are well above 100. And we think that this has to do with the fact that the human population in Tanzania has grown so much that there just far fewer resources for the wild lions that live outside the [conservation] parks."

BERMAN: The country's population has grown rapidly, from 23 million in 1988 to more than 34 million in 2002. Mr. Packer says this has reduced the amount of land and natural prey that is available to lions in the wild.

In the study reported in Nature, Mr. Packer and colleagues looked at the of man-eating attacks, which appear to occur most often during the period between March and May. An analysis showed that half of the attacks occurred in four districts in southern Tanzania, between the capital, Dar es Salaam, to the border with Mozambique.

Mr. Packer says in those areas there is very little natural prey for the lions, but heavy populations of bushpigs, animals that are crop pests. Mr. Packer says the bushpigs the crops at night. So, it is common for farmers wanting to protect their fields to sleep in them. Unfortunately, that puts them at risk for being attacked by lions.

PACKER: "Once the lions learn that they can take human for food, they can become very aggressive and they can become very adventurous. And instead of just taking victims from agricultural fields, they will actually go into villages; they will break into peoples' houses; they will pull people out of bed."

BERMAN: Once there has been an attack, lions are often hunted down and killed.

Tanzania has the largest number of lions in the world, and propose protecting some of the country's population of 12,000 cats by keeping bushpigs away from crops. One strategy includes protecting fields by digging ditches that the bushpigs cannot cross. Researchers also note that people hunted by lions are usually alone, so they should try to stay together in groups.

The investigators say the safety and well-being of humans come first. But they conclude the conflict between humans and lions must be a top priority if animal conservation efforts are to be successful. Jessica Berman, VOA News, Washington.

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