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Herders Kill 'World's Oldest Wild Lion'

FILE: In this Jan. 25, 2014 photo, a male lion looks out over the savannah at dusk prior to being shot with a tranquilizer dart, in order to fit a GPS-tracking collar, by a team led by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) in Nairobi National Park in Kenya.

NAIROBI - A Kenyan lion believed to have been the world's oldest in the wild has died after being speared by herders, wildlife officials said on Friday.

Loonkito, an iconic 19-year-old male lion, was speared to death by Maasai morans (warriors) after straying into a livestock pen in the outskirts of the famed Amboseli National Park, Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) spokesman Paul Jinaro told AFP.

"It was an old lion that had issues... getting prey on its own and livestock is easy prey," Jinaro said.

"A normal lion would go for wildlife inside the park."

African lions typically have a lifespan of up to 18 years in the wild, according to conservation group Cats for Africa.

KWS in 2021 described Loonkito as a "legendary big cat warrior" who had defended his territory for over a decade.

Conservation group Lion Guardians eulogized Loonkito as "a symbol of resilience and coexistence."

"It is with heavy hearts that we share the news of the passing of Loonkito (2004 - 2023), the oldest male lion in our ecosystem and possibly in Africa," the non-profit said on Facebook.

Reports of wildlife straying into human habitats in Kenya have increased in recent years as the animals come under growing pressure from cities expanding into ancient migration and hunting grounds.

"People need to be sensitized on looking for a way to alert us and then we can take animals back to the parks," KWS official Jinaro said.

In July 2021, a lion caused panic after straying from its habitat in Nairobi National Park into a crowded neighborhood during morning rush hour.

The park is just seven kilometers from the heart of Kenya's capital, and incidents of animals escaping the grassy plains and wandering into the chaotic metropolis of more than four million people are not unheard of.

In December 2019, a lion mauled a man to death just outside the park, while in March 2016 another was shot dead after attacking and injuring a nearby resident.

Just a month before that, in February 2016, two lions spent a day wandering through Kibera, a densely packed city slum, before returning to the park, and days later more lions were spotted in town.

There are an estimated 2,500 lions in Kenya, according to the country's first-ever national wildlife census conducted in 2021.