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As Wildlife Dies, Kenya Considers Pesticide Ban

In Kenya, parliament is being asked to ban a pesticide that's been blamed for the deaths of hundreds of animals, including many lions. Kenyan MP John Matutho is introducing legislation to prohibit the use of Furadan – a cheap but lethal chemical originally manufactured by the US based FMC Corporation.

The conservation group Wildlife Direct supports the ban, which would replace a buy-back program for Furadan. It says local herdsmen are using it to poison lions and other carnivores threatening their livestock.

In Nairobi, WildlifeDirect executive director Dr. Paula Kahumbu says, "This is a pesticide that has recently been banned in the United States. It's also banned in Europe because it's been found to be unsafe to be used even if we follow the label instructions.… It's one of the most dangerous pesticides actually available at the moment."

It's readily obtainable over the counter in Africa. "It's very, very cheap. In fact, it's probably the cheapest pesticide available," she says.

Deadly to wildlife

In the early 1990s, it was discovered that water birds were dying large numbers after Furadanwas used in some irrigation systems.

"So that's when people realized it was just devastating wildlife. And later on, the local communities realized it was powerful against almost any animal. In fact, birds are very sensitive, but so are cats," she says.

Lions fall prey to Furadan

"We know over 60 lions that have been killed in the last two years and that's probably the tip of the iceberg. And Kenya today has fewer than 2,100 lions remaining. We used to have over 30,000," says Kahumbu.

Is the buyback plan working? The head of WildlifeDirect says, "The Furadan withdrawal and buyback is working in the sense that FMC is effectively withdrawing it from the shelves. The problem is the patents that FMC had have expired and Furadan, or carbofuran, is being produced now by Chinese, Indian and Pakistani companies."

The conservation group fears that means unless a ban is imposed, the pesticide will easily find its way back to Kenya.

The chemical attacks the nervous system and only small amounts can kill an animal. It can also be fatal to humans if ingested.

"It takes only a quarter of a teaspoon to kill people, "says Kahumbu. She says lower concentrations can cause neurological problems, such as paralysis and breathing problems.

"This has been documented in other countries. It hasn't been documented in Kenya. And I suspect it's purely because there's absolutely no monitoring system in place," she says.

Enforcing a ban

"It'll be easy to enforce in that if anybody is found using it there would automatically be very stringent responses. People would be arrested. They probably would be fined or maybe even go to jail," she says.

Once a ban is imposed, she says, an education campaign can begin warning of the health dangers of Furadan and the risks of punishment for using it.