Tag Archives: Amboseli

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!

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.


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.


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?

Team Simba rules the Lion Guardians games

The annual Lion Guardians games were successfully held on June 13 in the pristine and striking Selenkay Conservancy. The games, which were held for the fourth year running, experienced several firsts. First, the LGs were being accommodated at our newly built Lion Guardians Training Center in Nairrabala, located on the outskirts of Amboseli National Park. For the first time in the history of the games, the venue was Selenkay Conservancy, a groundbreaking conservancy in the Amboseli ecosystem set up and run by Gamewatchers Safaris. Also, for the first time in the history of the LG Program, the participants consisted not only of the Kenyan LGs, but also their Tanzanian counterparts from the Ruaha Lion Guardians project (in collaboration with the Ruaha Carnivore Project).

Every member of the Lion Guardians team was present

Every member of the ever growing Lion Guardians team was present

This year, rather than having the Lion Guardians from the different areas compete against each other, we broke out into three evenly matched teams.  The community members from the nearby Eselenkei community, led by their elected leaders, cheered on teams Simba, Cheetah and Rhino the whole way through. As all of the participants in the games were pastoralist, we instituted a new event to be held on the arrival date, whistling, which was deservedly won by Ruaha Lion Guardian Gwagi representing team Simba. The first event the following day was the exciting and competitive 100 meters sprint, which was won by Kuyan Nterepia from Eselenkei Group Ranch duely representing team Cheetah.

The competition was fierce!

The competition was fierce!

Kisimir Olamayiani from Mbirikani also from team Cheetah won stick throwing.


Kisimir got the royal treatment!

Team Simba exemplified their precision by winning spear throwing accuracy through Maen Koole from Olgulului Group Ranch.

And it's a direct hit in the middle!

Bullseye – straight through the middle!

The Simba’s again showed their dominance by winning the distance spear throwing contest through the skillful Lenkai Nkiinti from Eselenkei Group Ranch who destroyed a congested field of worthy opponents. A new thrilling event was dancing and jumping in both Maasai and Barabaig styles.

Maasai style jumping

Maasai style jumping

Kuyan Nterepia out-jumped all the Maasai Morans assembled while Gwagi, who has shown to be a worthy competitor for the Kenyan LGs, won in the Barabaig jumping category.

Barabaig style jumping

Barabaig style jumping

For the first time in the history of the games, Mbirikani Group Ranch dominated the annual awards for excellence, winning four of the six categories on offer through Kisimir Olamayiani, Noah Solonka, Olubi Lairumbe and Mokoi Lekanayia. Lenkai Nkiinti from Eselenkei Group Ranch won the ‘beyond the call of duty category’ while the Tanzanian pair of Mandela and Darium won the most reliable award.

The awards ceremony

The awards ceremony

The games were, for the first time, graced by the entire Lion Guardians Board of Directors, Gamewatchers Safaris & Porini Camps director Dr.Mohanjeet Brar, several overseas donors, many local community leaders and Kenyan government representatives amongst other dignatories.  In addition, Porini Amboseli Safari Camp’s manager, the ever-helpful Tony Musembi and almost this entire staff were drawn to the occasion by the songs and dances of the never tiring LG team. As always, roast meat and other food were not in short supply and all those who  took part cannot wait for the next edition. More photos are available on our facebook page in our photo albums. The games would not have been possible without the help of our partners.  We are especially grateful to Ecosys Action who has sponsored the Lion Guardians Games for three years running and to our long time supporters Gamewatchers Safaris & Porini Camps who graciously allowed us to hold the games in their beautiful Selenkay Conservancy and provided invaluable logistical assistance.

Expansions in top gear

We are very excited that all of the ground work for our expansions into the Ruaha and Sinya areas of Tanzania are now bearing fruits. Earlier this year, we hosted a group of Barabaig community leaders from the Ruaha ecosystem in central Tanzania on an exchange visit to Kenya. They interacted with our Lion Guardians and the Amboseli community members who have partnered with the program over the past 6 years ; they went back very excited and eager to start a Lion Guardians program in Ruaha. After their return, they held community meetings throughout their territory to describe the program to their peers using their own words. The meetings resulted with the community giving us the blessing to go ahead and start the program.  Within a week of our arrival, we were able to interview and select five new Lion Guardians. They are currently undergoing training by two of our best Lion Guardians who traveled to Ruaha from Amboseli; so far the news is encouraging.

Mokoi is one of the Lion Guardians who traveled to Ruaha to train the new recruits

In West Kilimanjaro, Sinya area, the process began with a meeting of the area leaders which was attended by all zonal representatives and their community Chairman, as well as the traditional chiefs. They then convened several community meetings, all of which gave us the final blessings to start the initial process in this conflict prone area. In fact, I have just returned from there, leaving behind two of our team members who are conducting interviews for potential Lion Guardians.  The final selection will be done soon and the results announced in a community meeting. Soon thereafter, the training of the selected Lion Guardians will begin.

The new Lion Guardians will be trained in radio telemetry, the use of GPS and data recording

West Kilimanjaro is a very important area if the Amboseli lion population is to be protected; many of the lions that frequent Amboseli cross into the Tanzania border and are often killed in retaliation as a result of human-wildlife conflict.  In fact, a lion was recently killed there in early September 2012, just a few days before we started community engagement.

We believe that the the presence of Lion Guardians in this area will greatly reduce the incidences of human-wildlife conflict, thereby preserving the life of these precioius few remaining lions. Please help contribute to the success of these noble expansion plans by helping us fund the costs of getting these new sites up and running.  Your support helps us cover cost such as the salaries of the Lion Guardians and their equipment.  It also helps us pay for important field costs such as phone airtime, vehicle fuel, maintenance and repair, which are all imperative to the effective operation of the progam.

Selenkay’s pride behaving well

Selenkay’s pride which is now composed of ten lions is well known for being a livestock killing group. This is because they have killed livestock in almost every corner of their territory and have been hunted countless times in retaliation. Fortunately, we have succeeded in stopping all lion hunting party’s intent on killing them except for the politically motivated hunt that killed their sister Narika two years ago. However, over the last two months, as if sensing the tension and danger in the air as a result of the conflict in Amboseli, this pride has confounded many that know their reputation. They have not killed any livestock and thus managed to stay away from the limelight.

This is Loomuguri, son of Selenkay and Ndelie, eating meat.

Throughout this conflict period, they have only been hunted once by a group of morans but not in retaliation and fortunately, we were able to come to their rescue. Yesterday, we found them relaxing close to Amboseli Porini camp in Selenkay conservancy with visitors having a field day clicking their cameras. The pride looked absolutely healthy and the cubs seem to have grown bigger beyond their age.

Nempatipat is the daughter of Selenkay and Ndelie

Ndelie, the resident male lion was with them and he seems to have grown in confidence as opposed to his usual skittishness with the car. Lioness Elikan who likes to go solo when she stops weaning, was out hunting and left the motherly Selenkay to be constantly harassed by the playful cubs under the watchful eye of Ndelie. The good news is that their primary prey species are available in plenty owing to the proximity to watering points. This is ideal lion behavior especially in a politically poisoned environment and we pray that they abstain from livestock killing as we wait for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

One of Selenkay’s cubs investigating the camera.

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.

Mystery animal

It was late in the evening in our camp in Selenkei when we decided to respond to a Lion Guardian report. Several exciting things happened within a short span of time. First we found a herd of about 30 elephants which in itself is something unusual. The elephants were clearly uneasy with us being near, probably as a result of the on-going human-wildlife conflict in Amboseli. After inspecting the elephants at close range for any injuries, we left satisfied that they were all okay.

Then within a short distance, a lone hare persisted to stay on the road in front of our vehicle, thus in our way. Darkness was approaching and we slowed down for it to move on. Then like a flash, an African wildcat darted into our path, struck the hare with its paw and delivers a death bite, all in less than 3 seconds. We could not believe it and were excited that it all took place in front of our vehicle. We continued on our way. As we reached the edge of Amboseli National Park in open grassland, we found a completely black animal that I have never seen before. The altitude was 1245 meters above sea level. It had a small head with large ears and long legs relative to its body size. Can any of our readers identify this creature?

Can you identify this animal?

We were very excited when this crossed our path.



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.