It had been years since a lion was killed near Kenya's capital. The country had developed one of the most sophisticated conservation programs on the African continent. What is happening?
Both lions had escaped from the national park, famous for being one of the world's only urban wildlife ranges, with wild animals roaming at the foot of Africa's third-largest city. Thousands of tourists visit every year, taking versions of the same iconic picture: zebras, giraffes and lions in the foreground and a growing skyline just behind them.
Kenyan wildlife officials liked what the picture connoted: the arrangement they had sorted between man and animal, the way they had balanced a rapidly growing metropolis with one of the world's great populations of vulnerable species.
But is that still true? On at least four separate occasions in the past two months, lions have escaped from the park, often heading toward the urban sprawl that has grown around the protected area. One ran toward the airport. Another toward a military barracks.
The lion population in the park had grown to 35. It was good news, but it meant that there would inevitably be territorial disputes. Some male lions would be pushed out of their traditional areas.
"We knew they would have to look for new territory to avoid clashes with other males," said Kenya Wildlife Services spokesman Paul Gathitu.
When the park was established in 1946, roaming beyond the park was safe for the lions: There were miles of undeveloped land. Not anymore. The human population around the park has grown tenfold since then, and many of those new residents don't like the idea of a visiting lion.
Mohawk was shot in the town of Isinya, after he was surrounded by a mob of people throwing rocks and wielding machetes and sticks. The lion had mauled one man with his paw and was afterward considered by Kenyan wildlife officials a "threat to human life." He was shot several times as he appeared to be running away from the crowd.
Lemek had escaped with another lion Thursday morning. A helicopter was dispatched to find them. But by the evening, Kenyan Wildlife Services reported that that its rangers had "discovered Lemek’s body under a large thicket beside a dry riverbed."
In Kenya, there was something of a divide in response to the lions' killings. Some said they were tired of Westerners and self-proclaimed environmentalists prioritizing a lion's life over a human's. Others were outraged. The hashtag #JusticeforMohawk was trending in Nairobi after the first lion was killed.
The truth is: elephants, rhinos and other native species are killed with incredible frequency across Africa. And those individual poachings rarely receive notice outside of the forests and ranges where the crimes occur. But they've accumulated: In Tanzania, the elephant population declined by 60 percent between 2009 and 2014. The Northern White Rhino is expected to go extinct within years — only one male remains.
Lions are considered a "vulnerable" species, but they don't face the same threats as animals poached for their ivory. Still, there was something about the deaths of Mohawk and Lemuk that stood out. Maybe it was their notoriety in one of Africa's most popular parks. Or maybe it was the idea — perhaps no longer true — that they could live their wild lives in such close proximity to our urban ones.