Loonkiito, possibly one of the oldest lions in the world, has been killed in Kenya at the age of 19, conservation organization Lion Guardians said.
The lion was killed on Wednesday by the owner of a livestock pen, which Loonkiito had entered in the middle of the night looking for prey due to being “starving,” the organization said.
He was “the oldest male lion in our ecosystem and possibly in Africa,” said Lion Guardians, which announced his passing “with heavy hearts.”
“He was a symbol of resilience and coexistence. We at Lion Guardians feel privileged to have borne witness to his life and his legacy,” it added.
The organization attributes the long life of older wild lions in recent times, in a landscape where a “decade ago, we did not have lions surviving past age 10,” to the efforts of local communities that share the land with the big cats.
A dramatic increase in the demand for energy and materials over the last 50 years has left humans and lions competing for space and resources, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) website.
Lions will travel far, sometimes venturing outside of protected areas, to look for prey when their food source diminishes, and can pose a risk to human communities when they prey on their livestock. Farmers often kill them in retaliation or to prevent conflict.
Loonkiito was unfortunately “caught up in this dynamic,” said Lion Guardians.
Kenya has been experiencing its worst drought in four decades. The organization said that the end of a drought is commonly marked by an increase in human-lion conflict, since wild prey becomes harder to hunt and livestock owners are “particularly vigilant” after losing so many animals.
This incident “was a tough situation for both sides, the people and the lion,” it added.