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Bibi the Lioness, a BBC Star, Was Found Poisoned

Bibi and another unidentified lion killed by the poison were part of a pride that filmmakers followed for years

A lioness from the Marsh Pride in Masai Mara National Reserve of Kenya, the group of lions that was poisoned (Aditya Singh/imageBROKER/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

This week, tragedy has struck for a BBC film crew and viewers of its popular wildlife shows: One of its stars, a beloved Kenyan lioness named Bibi, was killed after eating a poisoned cow carcass. 

Bibi was an elderly matriarch in the Marsh pride, a group of lions living in the Masai Mara National Reserve, reports Melissa Hogenboom for the BBC. Her tattered ears, light color, large size and missing tail tuft made her easily identifiable for viewers as well as film crews, which have followed the pride since 1998. In BBC shows and specials including "Big Cat Diary," "Big Cat Week," and "Big Cat Live," viewers have watched rulership of the pride change paws, cubs grow into adults and - according to the BBCthe first live lion kill broadcast on the internet

The pride has a dedicated Facebook page, where the poisoning was first reported. According to the BBC, Bibi and some of her family members ate a cow carcass on Saturday night that had been laced with poison. The film crew present noticed Bibi panting, foaming at the mouth and lying on her side on Sunday morning, reports Hogenboom. At least six others were also poisoned. One, unidentified so far, was also found dead. Several others were "acting strangely, collapsing and suffering from spasms," according to The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s post on the Facebook page. The surviving victims are now getting treatment, although Siena, an adult lioness is still missing, reports Rachael Bale and Jani Actman for National Geographic. "Six vultures, which likely fed on one of the dead lions, have also died," they write. 

A necropsy, or animal autopsy, of Bibi and the other lion showed that they were poisoned with a pesticide called carbofuran. In the past, the same substance has been used to poison lions. The attack probably arose over fears that the pride would attack cattle owned by nearby Maasai herders. While grazing is illegal on the reserve, it has increased in recent years, Bale and Actman write. 

Experts still don’t know who poisoned the pride, but two people were arrested and arraigned in Narok, Kenya, National Geographic continues. In a blog post, zoologist Jonathan Scott writes that the arrests represent "the first cases in Kenya’s history of prosecuting someone for poisoning wildlife," he writes. He adds that he hopes that the event will push authorities to resolve the grazing conflicts that put the lions in the way of danger and cause trouble for local people.

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