Lions and People Killing Each Other in Tanzania

Lions have killed more than 560 Tanzanians since 1990, scientists announced today. The victims include children playing outside huts and people dragged from their beds, researchers say.

So Tanzanians are killing lions in increasing numbers, as you might expect.

The solution seems to be in controlling the pigs.

Researchers conclude that bush pigs, an agricultural pest that drives out zebra, impala and other natural lion prey, are to blame.

The lions enter villages searching for pigs and end up attacking people. More than 18 percent of the attacks are on children under age 10. More than two-thirds of the attacks are on adult men, who are known to sleep in their fields to protect crops from the pigs. Some of the attacks occur when villagers use outdoor toilets.

The solution, the scientists say, is to control the spread of pigs.

"People in the United States often tend to think of lions, tigers, etc. as cute and cuddly because we don't know what it's like to live with predatory animals who threaten us and our families," said University of Minnesota ecologist Craig Packer, who led the study. "That's because 150 years or so ago, our ancestors in the United States killed off the most dangerous predators in the country."

In other news today, a group of scientists proposed releasing lions, cheetahs and other predators from Africa into the wilds of America, to create a Pleistocene ecosystem similar to that which was destroyed by early human hunters.

"We need to understand that Africans ... are responding in the same way our ancestors did," Packer said. "Most conservationists regret the way cougars and wolves were largely exterminated from the United States in the 19th Century, but we still have time to help Africans live with lions. Our primary concern is to protect people and their livestock without eradicating the lions. But people obviously come first."

The Tanzania study is detailed in the Aug. 18 issue of the journal Nature.

Tanzania's human population has soared from 23.1 million in 1988 to 34.6 million in 2002.

"Human population growth has led to encroachment into wildlife areas and depletion of natural prey populations, but attempting to sustain viable populations of African lions places rural people at risk of their lives and livelihoods in one of the poorest countries of the world," Packer and his colleagues write. "Mitigation of this fundamental conflict must take priority for any lion conservation strategy in Africa."