Lion Guardians coordinator Eric writes about the return to calm and normality after what has been a hectic and difficult time for all of us:
After the recent tragedies on Mbirikani Group Ranch with the deaths of the lionesses Narika and Mbeuti, we are proud to announce the return to normality in the ecosystem. Stakeholders within the Amboseli ecosystem, Kenya Wildlife Service, Lion Guardians, Maasailand Preservation Trust, and the community have all contributed a lot of effort to restore order. A series of vitally important meetings were convened in different corners of the ecosystem to bring the situation under control.
The political interest that reached boiling point last month has now been strategically but diplomatically nipped in the bud, and we are confident it will not resurface in the near future. Misunderstandings between stakeholders and Group Ranch officials were exhaustively addressed in a cordial and peaceful atmosphere where respect reigned supreme. All issues that were the bone of contention were isolated, addressed, and eventually agreed in an environment of give and take. Measures were agreed to prevent such things happening in the future, all with the consent of the community and its leaders.
This has clearly been a period in which the strength and characters of stakeholders within the ecosystem were severely tested. However, we stood firm in the face of what looked like insurmountable challenges. We knew what was at stake. The fate of lions was in our hands. The lions were innocent despite the gravity of their actions – killing the Maasai’s invaluable remaining livestock. Indecisiveness would have proved costly and so we acted in the best manner and way we could, for the sake of the lions we knew so well.
This whole situation, as painful as it is, leaves us wiser than before and we will use it to face other challenges in the future. We thank you for your support during this difficult time, and we all look forward hopefully to a future where lions and Maasai live together peacefully once again. Now that things are returning to normal we will be able to bring you more updates on the progress of the Lion Guardians and the lions we are continuing to monitor, and we thank you for your patience over these last weeks, when reporting to you has become difficult.
For a few days, we kept on receiving reports about a problematic limping lion. He has been sighted several times and is known to have an appetite for livestock meat. Not good news! His story is very interesting though….
Many years ago, before conservation moved into the area, a pride of lions killed several goats in Olgulului, one of our high conflict zones. Maasai morans were very angry at this, and went out on a revenge mission. Here are some morans (but not those involved in the attack – we don’t have photos from that!)
Close to the hills, they found the lions deep asleep. One moran aimed his spear at the sleeping lions and threw it as hard as he could. He speared the foot of the left leg of one of the lions who only narrowly escaped with his life, and ran off into the bush. He could not be found anywhere, and the morans could not believe it! One of their best ‘target men’ had just missed the target! After a long and tiring search, they went home empty handed. No lion tail, no celebration. The lions had escaped!
The pride disappeared for a few months before reappearing again. The speared lion could be identified as he was walking with a limp, but it looked like the wound had healed. The lions disappeared yet again, but now the rains have come and the feared lion has resurfaced yet again! His problem is that he likes staying close to human settlements. A few days after being seen, he killed a zebra, a goat and then crossed over to a nearby Group Ranch and killed the only surviving grade bull. The morans fed on the bull but promised revenge! We heard about their intentions and went to talk to them and try to persuade them not to.
We are pleased to say that they seem to have understood the message. The lion meanwhile kept on coming closer to human settlements and had many people worried. But just when we were becoming extremely concerned, flood water came to the area.
The territory that this lion prefers was flooded with stagnant water. He was forced to retreat to higher ground and thus far from human settlements. For the first time in my life I experienced first-hand the law of nature resolving a potential conflict! We have deployed several Lion Guardians to alert the community of his movement patterns, and hope for a happy ending for the limping lion and the local communities.
This is my first month back in the office and a lot is happening. I have heard that lots of lions are being killed in the south of Olgulului. This area has no Lion Guardians to monitor lions and other carnivores presently. Partly because we are looking for funds to expand the project to this area and secondly, we need to get enthusiastic and hard working Guardians who will make sure that no lions are killed in the area.
I am really impressed with two particular areas in northern Olgulului – Risa and Inchakita, which used to record high number of lions killed around this time of the year in previous years. Now that I have met my fellow warriors Medidingi, Lentooma and Sumulei, who work as Lion Guardians in these areas, it is my sincere hope that lions will be rescued. This is Lentooma:
There is bound to be lots of conflicts in the next few months because the drought has reduced the number of wild herbivores, and lions are left to venture into people bomas and kill livestock. This leads local Maasai to retaliate due to the low number of livestock that remain after the past drought. Below is a photo of Lion Guardian Medidingi, who is doing a great job protecting lions:
Hence the Guardians need to be proactive to counteract and rescue lions before they get into people’s bomas. And this is exactly what they have been doing in the previous weeks; the good news is that no lions have so far been speared in the areas where the Lion Guardians are working, like Risa, where Sumulei works:
For this our thanks go out to the Lion Guardians and the communities of Risa and Inchakita and the other conservation organizations like the Maasailand Preservation Trust and Kenya Wildlife Service who are also working for this same aim.
Eric, the Lion Guardian coordinator on Eselenkei and Olgulului group ranches gives us the latest news from what is still a battlefield between lion and Maasai:
In what has become a daily occurrence over the last two months, our Lion Guardians team has yet again worked together with our conservation partners to stop a lion hunting party in Mbirikani Group Ranch. A lone lioness jumped into a boma, injured 2 goats, was chased away and within no time pounced again. She jumped into another boma, and most cows scampered to safety but one cow was not so lucky. It was seriously injured by the claws, weight and strong teeth of the lion. The lion left in its wake destruction and eventually death as all livestock injured died within a few hours of the attack.
Sadly, the morans (warriors) decided to get revenge for their dead livestock. A group of 28 able-bodied men was on its way, their hearts and minds set on killing the lioness. It took a combination of all stakeholders and the Lion Guardian team for the lion hunting party to be stopped, amidst free flowing tears….a sign of the intense emotions and anger involved, as well as the strong attachment that the Maasai have for their few remaining livestock. Clearly, it was our persuasive diplomatic skills that won the day and for this our lions live to see another day.
Great efforts and resources are needed to address the great magnitude of challenges created by the last prolonged drought that brought an imbalance between predators and the plains game inside and outside Amboseli National Park. The last prolonged drought was an optimum time for carnivores. Now, they are completely desperate, and yet they have to survive. Meanwhile, Maasai morans are ready to use what they have used for years to protect their livestock…..the spear. I strongly feel that deep in my heart, the future of the pride that I am so much attached to is far from secure.
Samanya is our new Lion Guardian representing the Oloilalei area of Olgulului Group Ranch near Amboseli National Park. He lives and works in this low lying swampy area which is ideally home to several wildlife species. Samanya is quite young and shy but enormously friendly. The eagerness with which he undertakes his community work is unparalleled – he can often be found helping protect his community’s livestock, and attenuating any conflicts between people and wildlife which may arise.
Recently, one elder in Samanya’s community was very agitated after his only surviving donkey was killed by hyenas. He was understandably distraught and furious, and was threatening to leave out poison for the hyenas, which could have caused catastrophic consequences for the local wildlife, potentially destroying everything from the invertebrates to the vultures, hyenas and even lions.
When Samanya heard this, he went straight to elder and convinced him not to put down poison, promising instead to help fence the elder’s boma (livestock enclosure) to protect his other livestock, in exchange. The boma was fenced to a high standard and thankfully no poison was laid. What great work by Samanya! Despite his relatively young age he is able to convince his age-mates, as well as the elders in his community, not to harm wildlife.
He has a very likeable character and can easily understand all the new concepts and skills he is being trained in, despite his illiteracy status. His great tracking skills and ability to walk many kilometers without tiring are among his several other fantastic attributes. Welcome to the Lion Guardians team Samanya!
The Lion Guardians team over in Eselenkei group ranch was out looking for a group of 2 unknown lions that had been reported to us, when we heard strange noises from afar. A few more kilometers further and the noise was suddenly clear, loud and close! With the help of a spotlight, we saw some eyes shining in the dark…. and then saw the source of the noise – more than 6 hyenas and several jackals were making a violent attack….Their victim? A 12 foot long python!
They tore into its body from the back, and were taking their share while the upper part of the python was still alive! The Lion Guardian team was shocked and surprised at the same time, having never seen anything like it before.
What a rare sight it was to see these carnivores attacking a python! But this is just the tip of a very big iceberg. The severe drought that has only recently come to an end has changed everything in the area. Carnivore starvation in the coming weeks is inevitable. The Amboseli ecosystem has lost over 80% of the lion and hyenas’ prey, and we are currently faced with heavy livestock predation, a devastating blow for the Maasai who already have vastly depleted livestock herds due to the drought. Here is Lion Guardian Kapande with a cow that had been killed by a lion.
The viability of the Amboseli ecosystem after this drought is at stake. But what can be done? We have designed a simple but effective solution to stop carnivores preying on livestock: the Lion Guardians help communities protect their herds by reinforcing their livestock enclosures (bomas). They help their communities to improve their herding practices, inform them about lion movements and help develop warning systems that alert people when lions are nearby. Here are some of the Lion Guardians next to a boma they were working on.
These simple but practical measures have substantially reduced livestock losses that spur retaliatory attacks against carnivores and this in turn has minimized lion deaths. Please help us continue this valuable work by making a donation to the Lion Guardians project on this blog. Your support pays the wages of the Guardians and allows the project to keep on running and expanding to cover a larger area. We are very grateful for any donations you can make. Thank you from all the Lion Guardians team.
Finally the Lion Guardians, Maasai communities, wildlife and livestock that live together on Mbirikani, Eselenkei and Olgulului Group Ranches have experienced their first showers of rain. Everyone is very excited and thankful that at last there are a few green shoots appearing from the ground.
Though the wildlife and livestock are still very hungry, at least there is now hope that the drought is coming to an end. The Chyulu Hills are certainly looking a little greener.
We really hope that these showers are the start of some heavy rains, so that the Maasai people that have lost so much during the drought can start to rebuild their lives after the devastation it caused. Both people and animals have been struggling to survive and it is said that the Maasai have lost 80% of their cattle (which is equivalent to losing 80% of their money, and their livelihoods). The cattle that remain are too thin to sell, and people are unable to buy food or pay for their children’s’ school fees any more. At least these cows now have a few small green shoots to eat.
Most people have moved away from this area with their cattle, in search of pasture, some as far away as Mombasa and Nairobi. Now everyone is hoping that the grass will grow here, and bring back some life to the area, though whether the communities will be able to fully recover after such a severe drought is uncertain. Those people who had a lot of cattle are no longer rich, and those who had only a few might now be left with nothing.
We are also hoping the wildlife that has been suffering and dying due to lack of food, will also be revitalised and strengthened. However, our big worry is that as the wildlife becomes stronger, and the weak cattle return from their long journeys in search of pasture, the lions and other carnivores in the area will start to attack livestock. The Lion Guardians are all prepared for the possibility of this, and are already warning herders to be extremely vigilant at this time, and to build up their boma walls in preparation.
A report in the Telegraph on Tuesday suggested that within 20 years lions may become extinct in Kenya. This follows a press release from KWS (Kenya Wildlife Service) which says that Kenya is losing an average of 100 of its 2,000 lions every year due to growing human settlements, increasing farming, climate change and disease.
According to KWS figures, there were 2,749 lions in Kenya in 2002 and their population dropped to 2,280 by 2004 and to roughly 2,000 today. They say that if the current decline rate continues, there won’t be a single lion surviving in Kenya in the next 20 years.
There is no doubt that the numbers are in freefall. I’d be surprised if they even last as long as 20 years, said Dr Laurence Frank, project director of Living with Lions, the umbrella organisation of the Lion Guardians.
Laurence said: When I first came here 30 years ago, you would always hear lions roaring across the rangelands at night and see their tracks in the morning. Now that is very rare. The reason is simple; lions eat cattle, and as the numbers of people grow, the numbers of cows increase. Alongside that there are ever more efficient ways, including poisoning, to kill lions. Click here to read the full story.
Living with Lions and the Lion Guardians are working to reduce the conflicts between lions and livestock, so that there is less incentive for people to kill them. By doing things like warning herders to avoid areas where lions are present, finding lost livestock and helping communities to make their livestock enclosures predator proof (as in the photo below) the Lion Guardians are helping put a stop to lion killing in the Amboseli-Tsavo region where they work.
Please help us with this important work before it is too late. You can support the Lion Guardians by making a donation through this blog. Any amount you can give will help the work of the Lion Guardians, as they reduce human-wildlife conflict in Kenya.
The one month voluntary period by the new Lion Guardians on Eselenkei Group Ranch is now over. During this period the volunteering Lion Guardians have helped reinforce more than ten community bomas (livestock enclosures) to predator proof levels, found lost livestock herds in the bush and been tracking lions across the length & breadth of the ranch. Here one of our new Guardians takes a photo of a collared female from the Tara pride.
Because of our funding constraints we have had to pick only the four best Lion Guardians from our 10 volunteers. The four Lion Guardians that have been selected are Kamunu, Kutata, Melita and Lopono. Here they are receiving training from our new Lion Guardians Coordinator in Eselenkei, Eric.
We chose the warriors that were the most honest and hard working, and who had shown dedication and skill at lion tracking and community work, particularly in helping to upgrade local livestock enclosures. The constant flow of gratitude and appreciation, the positive facial expressions of community members and the instant embracing of boma reinforcement as a way of reducing human-wildlife conflicts means that this kind of community assistance will be a strong component of the Lion Guardian project here on our new ranch.
Keep reading the blog for more news of these four hard working warriors who have successfully gained employment with the Lion Guardians project.
Thank you for your concern about the ongoing drought here and for your donations over the past few months. We would like to thank Cass N, Brian M, Black C, Richard V, Lois C, Anne C, Loki Q, Diane K, Jessica F, Pirjo I, Sheri H, Katherine J, Samantha V, Scott R, Jace A, Sauwah T, Hashi H and Jide A for their support of the Lion Guardians and their help conserving the wild lions of Maasailand and the other wildlife that is struggling to survive here. Here is a photo of some of the members of our new Tara pride, that you are helping with your donations.
The boma (livestock enclosure) fencing by our voluntary potential Lion Guardians on new ranch Eselenkei is going very well. The Guardians have shown total commitment to their community work. A perfect example is Melita, who selected a boma which needed to be re-built very urgently, as the owner was having problems with his livestock being attacked by predators that were able to get through gaps in his boma.
Amazingly Melita completed the work in one day – a very impressive achievement! Members of the community have quickly embraced boma fencing as a way of preventing human wildlife conflicts.
Speaking of our new Lion Guardians on Eselenkei, we have a request for you. Are you, or is anyone you know getting rid of an old laptop? The new Lion Guardians team are starting to collect data now, and need to enter this into a computer so that we can measure how the project is doing.
The computer would need to be able to run Microsoft Office (Word and Excel), but do nothing more complicated than that! Do you think you can help? If so, please add a comment below! Thank you!