ARUSHA, Tanzania (AP) -- Hungry lions pursuing wild pigs into human settlements are killing people three times as often as they did 15 years ago in Tanzania, according to a survey.
The development has taken a toll on lions as villagers and wildlife officials hunt down man-eating lions, according to the report released Wednesday by the science journal Nature.
The human-lion conflict is a product of poverty, growth in human and lion populations and decline in traditional prey for the big cats, according to research by the University of Minnesota's Lion Research Center and Tanzania's Wildlife Research Institute.
Some Tanzanians have set up homes near wildlife conservation areas and others farm in corridors used by wild animals to move between protected areas and water sources, Zakia Meghji, Tanzania's minister for tourism and natural resources, said Thursday.
"Lions that often attack humans are old animals that are unable to stay in the pride. They end up targeting humans who are a far more easier prey than wildlife," Meghji added.
Villagers, who cannot afford to buy fences, often sleep in their fields to guard their crops against nocturnal pests such as wild pigs. These farmers fall prey to lions who follow the pigs, according to the report.
Since 1990, lions have killed more than 563 people and injured at least 308, according to report, with fatal attacks increasing markedly over time.
In the past, lions have typically hunted wildebeest rather than wild pigs. But as Tanzania's population has grown, traditional prey numbers have declined.
Farmers should dig trenches around their fields to keep away the pigs, the researchers advised.
This would also help conserve the number of lions in Tanzania, an East African nation that is home to the largest population of the big cats in the world.
Meghji, said, though, that lions were increasing.
"There has been a definite increase in the population of lions because we have effectively controlled poaching by giving 25 percent of wildlife revenues to local communities that now see the benefit of protecting the animals," Meghji said.
Story Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.