Soysambu Conservancy: Kenyan game rangers on Wednesday began rounding up thousands of zebras to be moved to a reserve where starving lions have been attacking livestock.
The spectacular nationwide operation, launched in Soysambu conservancy by the Kenyan Wildlife Service (KWS), is due to last until the end of the month in what will go down as one of Africa`s largest animal translocations yet.
Shortly after daybreak, rangers in helicopters rounded up startled galloping zebras into a large V-shaped tarpaulin enclosure.
The animals at the narrow end of the enclosure were allowed through into an adjoining pen and from there they were loaded on to trucks, each carrying some two dozen zebras.
KWS aims to move some 7,000 animals in all, 4,000 zebra and 3,000 wildebeest. At least 88 zebras had been captured Wednesday, hours into the operation.
Around 1,000 animals will come from Soysambu, near the Rift Valley city of Nakuru, a private conservancy owned by Delamere Estates. The remainder will be taken from several other reserves.
The operation, costing 103 million shillings (1.3 million dollars), will be carried out in four phases and run to February 28, KWS officials said.
The plan is to restock Amboseli, some 300 kilometres (185 miles) from Soysambu, with natural prey so as to prevent hyenas and lions from attacking livestock in homes around the park.
"Some herders lost as high as 80 percent of their stock due to the drought and the few that were remaining were attacked by hyenas and lions and that angered the local community," KWS spokesman Paul Udoto said.
"One of the quick remedies is for KWS to restock the park. It is one way of restoring the balance between carnivores and herbivores in the park as well as reducing the lion and hyena attacks on livestock," he said.
Charles Musyoki, a scientist with KWS explained that Amboseli park is a "dry season feeding refuge for herbivores" where animals jostle around water holes and patches of pasture then leave when rainfall resumes in the regions they migrated from.
But last year the animals did not move out of the park because of the prolonged dry spell, and many died.
"We lost significant numbers of wildebeests and zebras. Over 60 percent of zebras and wildebeests were lost in that ecosystem," Musyoki said.
"The deaths created an imbalance in the number of carnivores and herbivores in the park resulting in a shortage of the lions` and hyenas` normal food," spokesman Udoto said.
As a result the predators turned to preying on domestic animals.
"It is expected that the restocking will restore the balance of animals within the park and reduce the lion and hyena attacks on livestock," Udoto said.
In August, KWS said Kenya was losing 100 lions each year as cattle herders killed them in retaliation for attacks on their stock.