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Kenya Murder in the Game Reserve

2 minute read

All lions, conservation pioneer George Adamson once wrote, “have been designed and perfected by nature to kill.” But the former game warden who became foster father to dozens of lion cubs finally fell victim to deadlier animals — men armed with assault rifles. Adamson, 83, and two of his assistants were shot to death last week when he drove his Land Rover straight at three bandits in an attempt to rescue another employee and a woman guest who had been waylaid near his bush camp in northeastern Kenya. By midweek, police had seized three suspects.

Adamson, born in India, moved to Kenya in 1924 and in 1938 joined the government wildlife department. In the 1960s he and his wife Joy gained worldwide fame from her best-selling books, like Born Free and Living Free, which recounted their adventures raising captive or orphaned young lions to return to the wild. She was murdered in 1980 by a servant who had been accused of theft and fired.

Last week’s attack was apparently the latest in a prolonged war between the Kenyan government and heavily armed bands of poachers set on pursuing the illegal trade in ivory, rhinoceros horns and leopard and lion skins. Richard Leakey, the noted paleoanthropologist who directs Kenya’s wildlife service, said the killers would probably turn out to be poachers from neighboring Somaliland. These nomads are paid almost nothing for the hacked-off trophies, which are later sold for hundreds of millions of dollars in Asian and Middle Eastern markets.

Relentless poachers have thinned the ranks of some animals to perilous levels. In the past ten years, for example, they cut Kenya’s elephant population from 65,000 to 17,000. This threatens to extinguish not only the species but also income from tourism, which last year totaled $390 million. Kenya’s antipoaching rangers have counterattacked, sweeping the armed invaders out of the national parks and killing 23 of them since mid-May.

Ironically, the success of the rangers has driven the poachers into banditry of the kind that killed George Adamson. During similar attacks in July, two French tourists and an American woman were shot dead. Nevertheless, the animals are still more at risk than humans. Friends of Adamson say even some of the lions he raised and set free have fallen to poachers’ bullets.

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