Category Archives: Maasai traditions

Lion tracking in Maasai culture

Tracking is an art and an age-old tradition which can be very addictive. Lion tracking is usually inspired by boundless curiosity and ultimately the burning desire to find a lion. Whilst tracking, it is imperative to remain alert to every detail of your surroundings; from the dirt trail to the sky above, a paw print on the ground, or the calls of carnivorous birds, the environment is filled with clues and signs.  A keen tracker is able to interpret these clues and, more often than not, successfully follow and sight a lion.

Lions frequently travel on livestock/wildlife trails, riverbanks, dirt roads or around waterholes so this is where a seasoned tracker is likely to start looking for paw prints or pugmarks. Like a signature, paw prints have consistent shape and size and can be used to confirm a lion’s sex, age and even identity. For instance, the paws of a male lion are squarer and bigger than a female’s. Furthermore, unlike other predators, claw marks are not visible on the paw prints of all cats including lions.

Once a tracker has spotted paw prints and is on the trail of an animal, there can be no greater satisfaction than to follow the clues and signs in the environment until he has a visual of the particular species he is tracking. But to achieve this is no easy task. The tracker has to construct exactly what took place several hours before he came along simply by observing the tracks on the ground. Through his observations he also has to surmise the probable direction in which the animals have ventured after they left that particular spot.

While some tracking skills can be developed, some individuals have an innate ability to read their surroundings and follow the signs till they spot the animal they have been tracking. Here in Maasailand, being a good tracker can define an individuals standing in the community. Usually, a seasoned tracker is a warrior of great repute and someone the entire community would revere.

Of all the animals that the Maasai track, the lion is probably the most well known. The lion is one of the most beautiful, enigmatic and majestic animals in the world. And although lions bring many problems to those that live with them, Maasailand also shares these feelings of wonder and respect. Lions elicit reverence for their grace and independent nature; they also trigger fear when they come into close contact with people and livestock. In the past, successfully tracking and spearing a lion was a valuable act and proof of bravery amongst the Maasai. It carried with it prestige, status and respect in equal measure. But time has changed and the concerted efforts of different stakeholders especially within the Amboseli ecosystem is bearing fruits and slowly changing the tide. Direct benefits accruing from wildlife has brought about a positive attitudinal change, which carries with it a glimmer of hope for the future of wildlife species including the lion. In fact, over the last three years, there has been a significant increase in the lion population around the group ranches of the greater Amboseli ecosystem. Through programs such as Lion Guardians, Maasai warriors are now able to use their natural inborn tracking skills to protect lions instead of harming them, while at the same time helping to protect their communities from confrontations with predators. In zones where Lion Guardians patrol, the art of tracking is very much alive, albeit, for a completely different purpose!

Lucky sisters found alive

Last Saturday began just like any other day but little did we know what adventures lay in store. All of a sudden around 9.00am, our camp was flooded with over 100 people from a neighboring Maasai section, Kaputiei. Upon inquiry, they explained that they were in search of two little sisters lost in the bush over 80kms from their home. The search team had followed their fresh tracks close to our camp. The elder of the two girls was six years old; her sister was three. The search team had slept overnight in the bush, their efforts halted only by the setting sun. The two little sisters’ tracks had meandered through the southern section of Eselenkei Group Ranch, an area of thick vegetation, which is inhabited by many different wildlife species, including lions, hyenas, and leopards.

The Lion Guardians team immediately joined the search for the two sisters and helped to quickly mobilize local community leaders and partner organizations such as Big Life scouts. Employing our tracking skills, patience, and in-depth knowledge of the area, our hard work finally paid off when the girls were found near Lion Guardian Kamunu’s boma, having eaten absolutely nothing for two days. We are still amazed that these two little girls not only survived the pangs of hunger but also the ever present wildlife: looming elephants, curious hyenas, and the fact that they came quite close to the secluded place where lioness Selenkay is keeping her very young cubs. But what baffled us all the most was the long distance covered by the two little girls within a span of only two days.

Although monitoring lions is a key responsibility of a Lion Guardian, they often do many duties assisting their communities. One of these important duties is helping young herders and their herds arrive home safely each day as well as finding lost children when they wander away from home.

Although monitoring lions is a key responsibility of a Lion Guardian, they often do many duties assisting their communities. One of these important duties is helping young herders and their herds arrive home safely each day as well as finding lost children when they wander away from home.

Upon finding the girls, the now smiling and happy search party, which included ten women, came to our camp for much needed food and water as the Lion Guardian team opened their generosity taps. They were so appreciative of our magnanimity. They at once realized that the only reason the Lion Guardians team was available to help is because there are lions on this land. Knowing this, they promised to be more tolerant of different wildlife species that frequent their land as a show of appreciation for our actions. As a further indicator of their respect and appreciation of our help, the parents of the two girls invited us for a slaughtering ceremony to cleanse the two girls.

After the search party and the two girls had their fill, we pulled together many resources to facilitate their transportation back home. Game watchers Porini  assisted by providing transportation home for the girls and their family. We are thankful that the girls were found and that the Lion Guardians were able to use their skills and stamina to help their neighboring community. Stay tuned for more stories of how the Lion Guardians go above and beyond to help their communities!

Lighting it up!

Earlier this year, to combat an increase in livestock depredation by lions, Lion Guardians and the Kenya Wildlife Trust (KWT) teamed up to bring Lion Lights to nine separate bomas in the Amboseli ecosystem.

Lion Lights are an automated lighting system designed to deter large predators such as lion, leopard, hyena and cheetah, from killing livestock held in enclosures. This simple device was invented by an 11-year-old boy, Richard Turere whose family and neighbors were faced with predator incursions and livestock depredation on almost a daily basis in Kitengela (an area bordering the Nairobi National Park). The device is essentially a system of torches that flash intermittently. These intermittent flashes simulate the movement of a person around the boma and thereby deter predators. Actually, one of the most admirable aspects of the whole system is that it can be moved from one boma to another depending on the pastoralists’ movement patterns. Michael Mbithi and David Mascall refined the basic system developed by Richard and now solar-powered prototypes are being trialed in several locations.

In order to determine where the Lion Lights would be installed, the Lion Guardians team conducted a survey, in the group ranches of Eselenkei, Mbirikani and Olgulului, to establish which bomas experience the most lion incursions. In addition, we included Kunchu community land adjacent to Selenkay Conservancy, as there were a lot of livestock depredations by lions in that particular area as well. The survey was conducted over a period of two weeks. Lion Guardians also asked the community members to recommend the bomas that should get the Lion Lights based on their knowledge.

At the end of the two-week survey, we compared the recommendations made by community members with those emerging from the Lion Guardians’ program conflict data. Encouragingly, the results were very similar. Following the confirmation of which bomas were to get the system, the Lion Lights were successfully installed by Michael Mbithi and his project team, in close collaboration with the Lion Guardians in each chosen area.

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A Maasai lady proudly shows of the Lion Lights installation at the boma where she resides.

Since the installation in early June, Lion Guardians have been monitoring the incursion and depredations in the bomas with Lion Lights as well as the bomas neighboring them. Whilst our sample size is not statistically significant so as to draw long-term conclusions, the data we have collected does have positive indicators. As of now, all of the nine bomas fitted with Lion Lights have not experienced further carnivore incursions since the installation. Boma owners also openly admit that they now enjoy peaceful sleep at night. They told us that even when they observed predator tracks as close as 100 meters from the boma these predators had not entered the boma.

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Furthermore, neighbors to Lion Lights bomas have also expressed having felt the impact and protection of the lights at night. In fact, our current data shows that when the Lion Lights are actually visible from the neighboring boma then there are no incursions and depredations in those bomas either. There have however been reports of bomas (outside of our trial group) with Lion Lights suffering incursions. For instance, one boma at Nkiito in Olgulului Group Ranch (Lion Lights system was installed in November 2012) did experience a lion incursion. The culprit was a female lion nicknamed Asama who within the same week had killed a sheep inside a Born-Free fenced boma! Experts attributed the incursion to too much spacing between the Lion Lights.

Overall the Lion Lights also appear to be easy to use but boma owners have faced certain challenges. For example, users have overloaded the system by charging other electronics, they have also suffered a lack of power especially during colder months of June and July, and the required maintenance of the solar panel has challenged several bomas. However, Lion Guardians have monitored the situation and always responded as quickly as possible to address these issues.

All said and done, the Lion Lights system is simple by design, affordable, easy to manage and is a valuable tool in the conservation toolkit for reducing predator – human conflicts on community lands.

Lions give sight back to many!

The recently concluded eye clinic conducted on Eselenkei and Olgulului Group Ranches of Amboseli was very successful! The clinic, sponsored by Kenya Wildlife Trust and MEAK, in conjunction with the Lion Guardians program and tourism partners Gamewatchers Porini camp and Tortilis camp, was a benefit provided to people from both Group Ranches for their tolerance of lions, in particular, and other wildlife species, in general.

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An acknowledgement letter with signatures and thumbprints of the patients who attended the eye clinic.

Phase One of the event was a screening process where a team of eye doctors traveled to several sites within both group ranches and treated over 500 patients with a variety of less invasive methods such as administering eye drops. These initial screenings led to Phase Two where more than 50 patients received much-needed eye surgery to correct more severe ailments at the eye clinic held in southern Olgulului. Before each patient was treated, they were asked to sign a letter acknowledging that they understood that the treatment and benefits they were about to receive, were because of their tolerance of lions and peaceful coexistence with wildlife.

Even though this was the first event of its kind for all the participating organizations, the smooth and organized manner in which it was conducted left many amazed and inspired. But by far the most inspiring outcome of the clinic was the beaming smiles on the faces of patients, the majority of whom got their sight back after years of blindness or partial blindness! Women, men, young, old, educated, and not, were all welcomed and operated on by professional doctors at the Esiteti Primary School where two classrooms had been transformed into a hospital ward.

Moonka Olting’idi, now 62 years old, was a true Maasai warrior in his youth. He had killed a record nine lions to prove his bravery. But for the last four years, Moonka had become completely blind and in fact, had to be led around by one of his children. After the operation, as his face creased into smiles, he happily announced that he could see the foot of Mt.Kilimanjaro which was almost 20 kilometers from where we were! He then added ‘I regret having killed lions in the past, but now I will pass the message to my children never to kill lions again because they have given me my sight back’. (Watch this video of Moonka talking about how Lions gave him his sight back)

Linkoe Orkolui, a young pupil at Loirero Primary School, had a cataract in her right eye that made it very difficult for her to read anything written on the blackboard. This impacted negatively on her general performance in school. Amid many fearful tears and after much persuasion, Linkoe underwent the cataract removal surgery. Once the bandages were off, her tears turned into an unforgettable smile and Linkoe immediately joined the pupils in Esiteti Primary to exercise her reading prowess.

These are just two of the many inspiring stories we heard from patients that were treated at the eye clinic.

On one of the days, the patients and pupils gathered in a darkened classroom-turned-theater to watch the Lion Guardians film during their lunch-hour.They all enjoyed it so much that we played it twice as more and more people gathered to see the film and be part of the excitement.

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Patients, teachers, students and doctors gathered to watch the Lion Guardians film

The manner in which the Lion Guardians program, Kenya Wildlife Trust, MEAK, Tortilis, and Gamewatchers handled their respective responsibilities left many community leaders and other stakeholders in awe. The organizations also received a lot of appreciation from patients, their relatives, and all community members who witnessed the successful outcome of the operations.

In the next couple of days, a follow-up team will visit all patients that were treated to remove stitches from trachoma patients, assess their condition, and attend to any other eye related problems. We will continue to update you with inspiring stories as more community members begin to “see” the benefits that come from peacefully coexisting with lions!

Culture without borders

Pastoralism as a lifestyle is shared and practiced by several communities around the world. The main activity shared by all of them though, revolves around livestock production. This, to all pastoralists, is the main common trait and anything else, including language, cultural practices, belief system or organizational structures, can be different. When we expanded the LG Program to Ruaha in Tanzania( in collaboration with the Ruaha Carnivore Project), the Barabaig community was identified as the main lion killers because of their cultural practices. Amongst them, a lion killer would be rewarded with livestock by most of his relatives. This reward system became a major motivating factor behind lion killing. In contrast, for the Maasai lion killing was done to receive a lion name from the warrior’s peers.

During the 2013 Lion Guardians Games, held on June 13th, the warriors from both communities met and competed together for the first time.

The whole Barabaig team came dressed to kill!

The whole Barabaig team came dressed to kill!

As the majority of Ruaha Guardians were not acquainted with the majority of their Maasai brothers, the organization of the games was geared to ensuring that these young men with a shared objective embrace each other. The embrace was quick but their competitive spirit remained alive. The competition for whistling (a herding practice found in both cultures) set the ball rolling and was won by the Barabaig (you can listen to an example of Gwagi, the winner, whistling here). Their Maasai hosts were stirred and vowed to win the remaining events. We at this point made a decision to mix the teams and from there onward, each competitor represented his team, not his country or his community; but even then, the games still measured up to their competitive billing.

After the games the Ruaha LGs stayed behind at our newly built LG Training Center for further instruction and field experience.

Assistant Program Manager Richard Morinke teaching Darem how to use a telemetry receiver.

Assistant Program Manager Richard Morinke teaching Darem how to use a telemetry receiver.

When the Eselenkei community invited us to a traditional ceremony, we gladly accepted and took the Barabaig LGs with us. As warriors from both communities interacted, even though they spoke completely different languages, within no time they were able to understand each other through song and dance. The Barabaig LGs were dancing and jumping to different Maasai musical tunes and vice-versa.

Gwagi on the left and Noah on the right demonstrating their different styles to the great delight of the bystanders.

Gwagi on the left and Sunte on the right demonstrating their different styles to the great delight of the bystanders.

This bond between young men from two different communities surprised and entertained not only us but also the Maasai elders in attendance. Maasai women cheered both set of warriors to out jump each other and the exciting spectacle is still the talk of the community! Who said you can’t dance and jump to a different tune?

Take-over season for lion and warriors

Amongst the Maasai community, the institution of Moranism has withstood the test of time. Western education and Christianity are eroding some parts of it but the practice that is at the heart of their identity refuses to die-down. at the core of this institution is the age-set system, where one Moran age-group reigns supreme for several years before graduating to junior elders thereby allowing the subsequent age-group to take over. During their reign, the Morans act as the defensive unit of the Maasai community. This year, a new Moran age-group called Iltuati has officially been handed over the reins of power. They have selected their own respective Manyattas, which act as their training centers and headquarters, and recently elected their own leaders. For all intent and purposes, the take-over season for the current Maasai Morans is complete and therefore, over.

Two Iltuati

Two Iltuati

The lions of the Amboseli ecosystem have also been experiencing a take-over season.  Lions are the second largest cat species in the world and they are the largest carnivore in Africa. A lion pride is comprised of females, cubs and a resident pride male or males. Males can form coalitions and help each other in defending their pride and territories from other males. Nomadic males are young male lions that have been expelled from their birth pride upon approaching sexual maturity who are looking to start their own prides. They therefore fight with the old males for females and whoever wins takes over the females. This is when infanticide, one of the greatest but natural threats to lion populations, takes place. The victorious males kill any small cubs fathered by the defeated males, thereby prompting the females into oestrus.  These females subsequently mate with the new males, which leads to new cubs being born.

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Within the Amboseli ecosystem, several resident males have ruled and reigned supreme in their respective prides and territories. However, we are now beginning to see a transitiontaking place. Within Amboseli National Park, the Ambogga brothers were the new kids on the block. They practically chased all males out of the park, even killing one resident male named Kip, and took over all the females from three prides. Now several young males, who had been frequenting the periphery of the park, have gathered up the courage to make their attack. The Ambogga brothers have now been pushed to the western side of the park. Recently, we found them on a buffalo kill looking old, stressed and ready to flee at the slightest opportunity. Meanwhile, the constant roaring from the new males is increasing daily, and we are only waiting for a physical confrontation.

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One of the new males mating with Asama

Lomunyak

Lomunyak

In Selenkay Conservancy, one of our handsome male lions, Lomunyak, ruled the area for two years before leaving the area and heading to the Chyulus hills. He was replaced by another adult male called Ndelie who had previously lived in the Chyulus.NdelieNdelie sired many cubs with two generation of females and his pride, at one time late last year, even reached a size of 21 members, a number far larger than any pride size seen in the past decade. Recently, we began to receive reports from the Lion Guardians who were finding tracks of two new males in the conservancy. A week ago, we found one of them mating with Selenkay, one of our collared females (unfortunately we don’t have any pictures). The first questions in our minds were, “Where is Ndelie?  Where are her cubs?”   We got the answer to the first question yesterday when we responded to a lion depredation incident in Mbirikani; we found the culprit and it was Ndelie! He has, for all practical purposes, been kicked out of the Selenkay area. As a result of having clearly visible worn out teeth, he has begun a consistent pattern of his livestock killing…. his surviving days are numbered if he continues attacking the communities’ cattle and goats. Unfortunately for Ndelie, he has chosen to take refuge in the small territory between the park and communal land which is already occupied by another younger and stronger male called Oyaya.  Oyayai was driven out of Chyulus almost a year ago  when he was no longer able to defend himself after his brother Sikiria was killed in a retaliatory hunt.

We will keep you updated on all of the the changing dynamics; what is interesting to note though is that the take-over season for lions and Maasai Morans within the Amboseli ecosystem has arrived!

The Loliondo Land Dispute

By Eric Ole Kesoi

A number of our esteemed readers have been asking what is going on in Northern Tanzania in an area called Loliondo, which has been featured in the international press recently and is part of a current Avaaz petition campaign which has already garnered almost 1,700,000 signatures. Using this blog we decided to shed some light on the issue for the benefit of our readers, synthesizing information available from a variety of sources.

Loliondo

Recently, the Tanzania Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism announced that the government intended to review the boundaries and the size of Loliondo Game Controlled Area. The proposed change would increase the Game Controlled Area by 1,500 square kilometers and would displace approximately 66,000 Maasai and more than 200,000 head of livestock. The Minister said the government is taking this area because it is an important wildlife corridor and source of water that needs protection. However, it is important to understand the context behind the suspicion with which the Maasai community has viewed the pronouncement.

The Maasai residing in this area are pastoralists, and they have followed seasonal rains with their livestock across what is now northern Tanzania and southern Kenya since pre-colonial times. But they gradually have been squeezed out of their territory. The process began in 1959 when British colonialists evicted the Maasai to create the Serengeti Game Reserve. Consequently, they were resettled in Ngorongoro. In 1974, they were again evicted by the independent Tanzanian government to create the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, despite the fact that they had an agreement that allowed them to live there ‘in perpetuity’. Ngorongoro district is made up of Ngorongoro, Sale and Loliondo, with the Game Controlled Area—measuring 4,000 square kilometers—being located within the Sale and Loliondo divisions.

The Loliondo highlands are nestled between two jewels of Tanzania’s tourism industry—the Serengeti National Park to the west and Ngorongoro Conservation Area to the south. To the east lie the salt flats of Lake Natron, while to the north is the Maasai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya. The highlands are crucial as grazing areas for the Maasai during the dry season. The wildebeest, whose migration has been declared the Seventh Wonder of the World, come to calve in Loliondo. To prevent their cattle from acquiring malignant catarrh from the wildebeest, the Maasai move to the highlands to graze for two to three months during the long rains. During this time, the lowlands of Loliondo are left to the wildebeest, and, with the burgeoning human population, the Maasai do not have an alternative area to graze.

In 1992, a Dubai-based luxury safari company, Ortello Business Corporation (OBC), was given a hunting permit in the block. Under legislation introduced in 1999, all land in Loliondo was classified as ‘village land’. However, a portion of the village land and the so-called Game Controlled Area was leased to OBC. The move was disputed by the local people, who claimed the license-issuing process was not transparent and that they had been excluded. Tension over the issue has never been resolved, despite being before the courts of law.

Loliondo is on the main migratory route for wildlife, and the summer hunting season coincides with the migration of wildebeest and zebra through the area. It is worth noting that predatory animals such as lions and cheetah follow the migration. The Associated Press has reported that OBC flies in hundreds of members of the UAE royal families and businessmen, who spend weeks in the Loliondo Controlled Area each year hunting antelope, lions, leopard and other wild animals.

In 2008, the Tanzanian government signed a memorandum with OBC, asking the Maasai to leave the area voluntarily to pave the way for hunting activities. They refused, and at the height of the devastating 2009 drought some skirmishes ensued as the pastoralists and their livestock were chased and bomas were razed. 1n 2011, the government again tried to use the new Wildlife Conservation Law to expand Loliondo Game Controlled Area, but the plan was opposed by local leaders who claimed that all eight villages that are to be affected by the proposal have their title deeds. In 2012, Tanzania National Parks attempted to place border beacons to designate Ololosokwan as a Game Controlled Area.  Ololosokwan is part of the community land along the highland that forms the controversial 1500-square-kilometer area currently earmarked for hunting activities. The villagers again succeeded in thwarting the move through mass protests.

In the current Loliondo case, several civil society organizations have been fighting against the eviction. The online petition by the nongovernmental organization Avaaz to the government of Tanzania has received more than 1.7 million signatures. Even though Lion Guardians has recently expanded to two areas in Tanzania, we do not operate in the Loliondo area, so our program and the families of our Lion Guardians have not been affected by the dispute.

 

Peace returns to Amboseli

With negotiations underway between the Maasai and KWS, Amboseli has reverted back to its normal calm.

Peace and order has returned to the Amboseli ecosystem after a series of meetings held between the communities surrounding Amboseli National Park and the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).  The meetings were attended by thousands of community members as well as by top government officials. In the most recent meeting which was held on the 27th of August, the anger and emotions witnessed in the two previous meetings were replaced with the order and respect for which the Maasai community is well known. The main agenda item of the meetings has been to discuss  a way to fairly distribute the revenue generated by Amboseli National Park to the communities living in the areas surrounding the park, who are experiencing high rates of human-wildlife conflict and are incurring significant costs (both monetary and life) as a result. This has been and still is a very contentious issue and is at the root of most of the retaliatory and political killings of wildlife that have occurred in the area.
To present a unified front, the community leaders all met ahead of the meetings to put together a unified list of grievances and demands that was presented to KWS.  Severalof these issues can be addressed directly by KWS, but there are also many that are dependent upon the enactment of the  2011Wildlife Bill, which has yet to be passed in parliament and upon legal interpretations of the recently introduced new constitution. So finding a solution that will be satisfactory to all parties will be an on going process – but the good news is that a productive discussion has been started and is proceeding forward.
A crucial element of the meeting is that the communities have all agreed that they will no longer take their frustrations out on the innocent animals and will instead focus on directing their energies towards advocating for a fair allocation of revenue sharing through further discussions with KWS and through the legal and judicial systems.  The group ranch leaders have informed all of their members that the killing of wildlife is unacceptable and will not be tolerated and they also invited all of the conservation organizations working in the ecosystem to resume their operations.
We are greatly relieved by this news and our Lion Guardians have now resumed their daily duties.

Lioness killed inside Amboseli Park

The on-going human-wildlife conflict in Amboseli moved a notch higher yesterday with a complete show of bravado never seen in the recent past. Monday in the middle of the night a lioness, Amyjane, had jumped into a boma adjacent to the park, killed a donkey and cow, and was speared in the front left leg. The morans responsible for the spearing wanted to follow her into the park, but were persuaded not to by elders and village leaders. The morans heeded their advice, but continued to monitor the movement of the lioness inside the park. The following morning we were called in to track and assess the situation of the lioness. She was deep inside a small thicket when we found her and it was clear that she was experiencing a lot of pain. She didn’t move when we drove close with the vehicle and she exhibited a lot of aggression which is unlike her normal behavior.

One of the last photos of Amyjane alive

Then as fate would have it, the veterinary officer that was supposed to treat her was summoned very early in the morning to attend to a rhino that had died due to a gun wound from poachers in the Chyulu Game Reserve. While awaiting the vet to arrive, we responded to another depredation report we received from Lion Guardian Jackson in a nearby zone.

During that time, a herder brought livestock inside the park for water very close to where Amyjane was hidden. When she saw the herder, she growled and the livestock scampered for safety, thus prompting the herder to summon the morans from the nearby cultural boma. They responded immediately and tracked the lion within 10 minutes and speared her ten times till she succumbed to death.

At this time we had just finished verifying Jackson’s report and were on our way back to check on Amyjane, with five Kenya Wildlife Service rangers we picked up on the way. As we were approaching the site where we last saw her (about 50 meters away) we found a lion paw freshly cut. We immediately started to fret, but we also thought that maybe it belonged to another lion that might have been killed earlier that morning.

Worried, we rushed to the site where we had last seen Amyjane just an hour ago, but she was nowhere to be seen! We immediately reached for the receiver to track her collar, but unfortunately after five minutes of searching we came up empty handed. At this time we returned with the KWS rangers to where the paw was found and started tracking the perpetrators foot prints. Using my traditional tracking skills we followed their fresh tracks for about five minutes until we reached Amyjane.

Her body was dismembered; specifically the torso was cut in half and placed 50 meters apart likely to conceal the killing. Her head and all of her paws were missing. This was proof that her killers were in a hurry to leave the site, accompanied by their intentions to sell the fresh trophies to the nearby tourists who visit the park. Interestingly, the tail which is the most important part of traditional lion killing celebrations was still intact: meaning that the killing was not traditionally motivated. It was a ghastly site to see, especially given the fact that we had just seen her alive a few hours ago. I was horrified and heart broken at the same time.

Amyjane’s dismembered body

After joining Amyjane’s torso to verify it was one lion that was killed we decided to follow the fresh tracks of the warriors, which led to the nearby cultural bomas. What was interesting is that the cultural boma, which is always a bee-hive of activities (especially during the high season), was so conspicuously silent that one could hear a pin drop!

Amyjane whose pride has known misfortune over the last few years is the latest victim. Her sister mysteriously died two years ago and left her the duty of bringing up nine small cubs. She successfully brought six of those cubs to maturity, while one was killed by an elephant.  Another was killed by a pair of resident male lions and the third was speared at the gate of the same cultural boma in which her mother’s killers live. Currently, she has three very small cubs whom she left with her companion, who also has three cubs of the same size. We hope that she will be able to bring up all six cubs, but it will be a very difficult feat.

Amyjane’s companion will have a difficult task in trying to raise all of the cubs to maturity. The cubs pictured here are from a litter she had in 2010.

During the past week in Olgulului Group Ranch, lions have gone on a rampage and killed three cows, three donkeys and seriously injured six cows, all resulting in three lion hunts. Lion Guardians managed to stop all the three lion hunting parties in the respective zones. This is due to our diplomatic and non-accusatory approach. But, unfortunately Amyjane was hunted inside the park (outside of our jurisdiction) where existing tensions between the community and KWS has lead to a decrease in tolerance.

Eric used his tracking skills to locate Amyjane’s body and track her killers to the nearby boma.

Currently, the situation in Amboseli is tense and the relationship between the community and KWS is at its lowest ebb and we fear for the future of the local wildlife. The previous conflict resolution meeting on Aug 6th, failed to arrive at an amicable consensus between KWS and the Maasai community. The Maasai community gave KWS 21 days to respond to their petition requesting a fair distribution of the park revenue.  If the morans are bold enough to hunt in the park in broad daylight and kill a collared lioness now, I shiver to think of what will happen if the trust between the community and KWS is severed over revenue-sharing. The parks wildlife will not survive without communal support and Amboseli National Park will be no more than a glorified zoo!!

Hopefully KWS and the local Maasai community can come to an amicable agreement in order to stop more senseless killings like that of Amyjane.

The end of a legend

In September 2009, we received an unusual report from our Lion Guardian Kamunu. His report was of a group of 4 male lions of the same age traversing through the Selenkay conservancy. We had never had such a big group of males traveling together so we gave instructions for them to be closely followed. We were able to see them briefly one afternoon, but unfortunately that night , they went on a killing spree, killing 7 donkeys as well as several shoats from one neighboring community. In the morning they were hunted, but due to the efforts of the Lion Guardians and the Eselenkei Game Scouts, no one got hurt and all lions lived to see another day. The next day we collared the biggest and called him Sikiria (meaning he of the donkeys). He then disappeared for 4 months. We gave instructions to our Lion Guardians to track him down but to no avail. We even conducted aerial searches without success! One day when we were following a report of a male lion called Lomunyak on Mbirikani Group Ranch, we did a call-in expecting Lomunyak to show up. We heard the approach of lions and when we shone the light, we saw 2 lions and to our utter surprise, it was Sikiria and his brother Oyayai.   When we down loaded his GPS collar, we were completely baffled by his movement patterns. He had moved through Namanga, spending nearly two weeks up on Namanga Hill, then he went all the way to Torosei which borders Shompole briefly in to Tanzania and back to Eselenkei and over to Mbirikani! Shortly thereafter, he moved beyond the Chyulu hills to an area close to Tsavo West National Park, Kuku. On many occasions he killed livestock and was hunted. At one time in early 2011, he injured a young Moran who was with others, hunting Sikiria after he had killed a cow. Sikiria got away without a scratch.

Sikiria after killing the cow

Sikiria after killing the cow

Over the past few years, he has matured, behaved well and finally settled in a place called Oltiasika mating with more than 6 females and siring over 9 cubs. His pride is composed of 14 lions and is thus one of the biggest lion groups that our Lion Guardian Project monitors outside protected areas.

Some of the cubs Sikiria sired

Some of the cubs sired by Sikiria

A few days ago, Sikiria, together with his brother and constant companion Oyayai, killed a cow at a place called Elang’ata Enkima on Kuku Group Ranch during the day. The cows were being herded by 3 Morans and when the Morans confronted these lions, Oyayai ran for his life but Sikiria waited for them. He was speared but in return he seriously injured 2 of the warriors while the 3rd ran home calling for reinforcements. Many Morans came to the rescue of their colleaques and speared Sikiria to death. But before he died, he seriously injured a 3rdMoran. All the injured Morans are currently recuperating at Loitokitok District hospital and we wish them quick recovery. According to the Maasai tradition, human injuries caused by any wildlife species is unforgivable and revenge is usually the ultimate response.

Sikiria lies dead with holes from spear wounds and parts removed by the warriors

Up until he finally met his fate, and upon downloading his movement patterns, Sikiria had travelled almost 7,000 square km, passing through 21 of the 30 Lion Guardian zones. As far as we can find, he has one of the largest documented ranges outside the desert lions of the Namib. Sikiria has always been a problem lion but our Lion Guardians in conjunction with other stakeholders within the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem like Maasailand Preservation Trust game scouts, Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust and KWS –Amboselihave all contributed to his protection until he met his fate. He was well-known as a recent survey conducted in Lon Guardian areas showed. Over 70% of people in the surveyed areas could name at least one lion and Sikiria was the most frequently named; a lion legend. His prominent beauty, unique personality, and composure will always be missed by those who knew him.

Sikiria's GPS locations

Sikiria's GPS locations

The last photo taken of Sikiria before his death

The last photo taken of Sikiria before his death