Tag Archives: Kenya

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!

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.

Taking stock of the killing spree

The killing spree in Amboseli necessitated by political tensions between Kenya Wildlife Service and political leaders had a devastating effect to both wildlife and the community.  Community leaders met and took stock of the killings within all of the Group Ranches. The results were shocking, but would have been worse were it not for the critical but strategic intervention of some of the stakeholders. We can confirm the killing of 3 buffalos, 5 elephants and a sub adult female lion. The lion was intentionally driven out and killed at the edge of Amboseli Park after attempting to kill a cow during the day. One of the new Morans was the first to spear, but she injured 2 people.  The carcass was transported on motorbikes and disposed of and has yet to be found. Coincidentally, a male lion that killed a cow on the Tanzania-Kenya border was also killed by Tanzanian Maasai.

About 18 elephants were speared but escaped with injuries and the relevant authorities are currently treating many. These killings appeared to have instilled a sense of fear among the wildlife and added stress to the elephants. A lot of resources were utilized in protecting and providing security as well as apprehending the culprits. A total of 44 Morans were arrested and released. Thirty-one of them received serious injuries and were admitted to a hospital in Namanga and the situation is still tense. Shortly after tempers cooled, two female lionesses killed a cow and a donkey and a party of 18 Morans attempted to kill them near Kitirwa. The Morans thereafter openly admitted swallowing their pride and went home after the lionesses, with 6 small cubs, went wild and instilled some fear into them.

Elikan tries to get a piece of the donkey that Selenkay is moving

Conflict and politics in Amboseli

Human-wildlife conflict in any pastoralist environment is inevitable and has existed since time immemorial therefore Amboseli ecosystem is no exception. The negotiations leading to the creation of the Amboseli National Park in the early 1970’s were not smooth and due to the political tensions and resulting hunting, the rhino population was decimated. In the early 1990’s, populations of key wildlife species like buffalo, elephants and lions were also nearly wiped out due to spearing from further conflicts with surrounding communities as well as age-set traditional hunts . A community based conservation approach spearheaded by various stakeholders helped restore sanity and within a short time, wildlife populations recovered. A transformed Kenya Wildlife Service adopted the community oriented approach to conservation which eventually led to the distribution of a certain percentage of the total gate collection from Amboseli as revenue sharing to adjacent Group Ranches.

Conservation efforts in the Amboseli ecosystem have made it possible for herds like this one to continue to grow

The emergence of various community conservancies and sanctuaries created both awareness  and an economic venture that brought significant benefits to the community. The creation of conservation organizations like Maasailand Preservation Trust, Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust, Lion Guardians and the critical intervention of African Wildlife Foundation as well as other important stakeholders widened the scope of understanding and took communal tolerance to a higher level. Lion Guardians and community game scouts within neighboring Group Ranches in collaboration with KWS rangers provided the much needed security intervention in conflict resolutions. For several years, apart from the usual conservation bottlenecks and challenges, everything has gone smoothly. In fact, for the first time in a decade, not a single lion was killed within the Amboseli ecosystem last year and all stakeholders were extremely proud of their vital contributions! KWS declared 2012 ’The Year of Communities’ and we were all hoping for the best.

Then a few days ago, an isolated but significant incident happened. A buffalo critically injured a person who eventually succumbed to death. This is nothing extraordinary since we have experienced this over the years. It is alleged that when the community asked for compensation, a KWS personnel responded in what was considered an insulting manner. The people went back, consulted and brought various grievances against KWS. In the morning, they mobilized able-bodied men, went into the Park, killed a buffalo and speared 4 elephants. They demanded a meeting with the KWS Director to no avail and they demanded another meeting to be held in a weeks time, which also did not occur. There and then, logic and reason took a back seat, anger and emotions took control while incitement took center-stage. Killing of key wildlife species started in the Group Ranches. Politically incited hunts, once started, are unstoppable.

A herd sniffing the air in distress

What started as an ordinary human-wildlife conflict was transformed into a national issue when historical injustices spearheaded by politicians of Kajiado County, were brought forward.  The local leaders no longer wanted to deal with KWS Amboseli but desired the institutional management, headquartered in Nairobi. A promise of 25% of total Amboseli gate collection as revenue sharing to the community by Former President Daniel Arap Moi became the bone of contention as leaders said they are currently receiving only 2%. A meeting to resolve the impasse is scheduled for the 6th August 2012. Even though we are unable to yet take stock of the damage caused by no less than 25 hunts in a span of 4 days, we can confirm the death of at least one elephant and two buffalos. Despite these hunts, after our strategic but diplomatic intervention, we are glad to inform you that to the best of our knowledge, no lion has been killed. We will keep you updated.

If this political unrest is not resolved soon we worry for the safety and future of all wildlife in Amboseli

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

 

The Lion Guardians 2011 Annual Report is ready!

annual report

Greetings!

We are pleased to present you the Lion Guardians 2011 Summary Report, which can be downloaded here. The full length Annual Report (1.3MB) can be found here.

We have had an incredible year, and have started initial expansions of our lion monitoring and conflict mitigation work in Tanzania. We look forward to hearing any feedback or comments from you about our progress this year.

We hope you enjoy these reports, and encourage you to visit us at www.lionguardians.org to follow our work or make a donation.

On behalf of the entire Lion Guardians team, I would like to express great thanks to all of our continuing and new 2011 donors and supporters. Thank you for your belief in our mission and your support in helping us to realize it.

Warmest regards,

Leela Hazzah, PhD
Founder & Director, Lion Guardians

The Tanzania Expansion

After several fact finding missions aimed at exploring the possibilities of expanding into Tanzania, we now are hoping to finalize everything in the next few months. With funding from Panthera, the Lion Guardian program is ready to start around Ngorongoro Conservation area on a pilot basis and we will work closely with Serengeti Lion Project in the area. Several meetings with our colleagues have been successful and there is even the possibility of an expansion to the Maasai Steppe as well.

One critical area has been along the Kenyan-Tanzanian boundary. The Kenyan side of the border had experienced about 16 lion killings before last year. We expanded to that area in September 2010 and since that time no lions have been killed. Our Lion Guardians worked closely with other stakeholders within the Amboseli ecosystem and did a commendable job. The problem is that everything changes the second lions cross over the border into Tanzania. A single depredation incident is enough to justify a hunt. Unfortunately, the majority of these hunts have been successful. In the last year alone, about five lions from the Amboseli ecosystem have been killed just across the border in Tanzania.

Lion Guardian zones

Lion Guardian zones

Recently, we held a very well attended cross-border meeting with all the major stakeholders including government officials from both sides and everything looked bright. We again held a follow-up workshop, both sides were in attendance. Several recommendations were made and time –lines were issued. Just when all was looking good, one of Tato’s male lions was killed in Tanzania in a retaliatory attack!

The cross-border meeting

The cross-border meeting

A few days ago, our Director Dr.Leela Hazzah and Luke Mamaai visited Sinya on the Tanzanian side where they were warmly received by community leaders who are keen to embrace the Lion Guardian program. While there, they gathered some facts about the area and the possible collaboration stakeholders and returned very excited and eager to start. At this point we are only awaiting the official invitation and permission from TAWIRI, the Tanzanian governmental branch in-charge of wildlife. Once permission is granted, everything else will fall into place.

Luke and Dr. Leela Hazzah at the meeting

Luke and Dr. Leela Hazzah at the meeting

Lion Guardians need your help in bringing the Tanzania expansion to fruition. Help us by making a donation now so we can continue to successfully mitigate human-carnivore conflict in high risk zones, such as Tanzania.

Miterienanka: it’s not just another name

Olamayiani – the blessed one, Mingati – one who is fast and doesn’t lag behind, Miterienanka – one who is quick to claim (win) glory by killing a lion. These are just some of the most popular lion names a moran (a Maasai warrior) can receive from spearing a lion.

In Maasai culture the first warrior to spear a lion in a successful hunt is given a name that represents the characteristics of both the warrior and the lion he speared. A lion name conveys upon the young warrior recognition and prestige amongst his community and peers. A warrior with a lion name feels that something great has happened to him. When the successful warrior brings the lion’s mane and tail back to his manyatta (his home in the community) to be put on display, he is treated and celebrated as a hero. Other warriors who don’t yet have their lion names yearn to have this same recognition and so dream about the day that it will be their turn to bring home the lion trophy.

Young warriors such as these two spear lions in order to gain a lion name

Young warriors such as these two spear lions in order to gain a lion name

When a Maasai boy is born, he has two names. One name reflects his father’s family. He also has a given name, which is usually chosen to honor a family friend, or someone respected by the family. If for some reason this given name becomes tainted, the boy’s father can give him a new name, but the family name never changes. Once a boy has been circumcised (usually between ages 16 to 18), he stops being called by these names. He is from that point on addressed with the generic name “Moran”, unless he has somehow already killed a lion, in which case he is called by his lion name. So there is more pressure than ever for a young Moran to distinguish himself from his other nameless peers and get a name that recognizes his strength, fearlessness and ability to protect his community.

A warrior enjoying himself at a wedding

The Lion Guardians are giving young warriors lion names in recognition of the work they do as lion conservationists

However, the Maasai communities are beginning to discourage lion killing, due to the rapidly dwindling lion population; therefore many new warriors are not being given the opportunity to earn themselves a lion name, which is something that they have been dreaming about since childhood. In Eselenkei group ranch, just as a passing experiment, Lion Guardians started calling a few young Moran by lion names, even though they had not yet killed a lion. We found that the younger boys and girls of the community began addressing these young Moran by these lion names, and soon thereafter, the older members of the community did so as well. The idea caught on like wildfire and soon their peers in their age-set also wanted to have lion names. But we also found that there were still several warriors who felt that they wanted to prove themselves and their bravery in order to earn their lion name. For these warriors we have been assigning them Lion Guardian tasks, and if they are able to show that they understand conservation and are able to protect a lion, then they get a lion name that reflects the characteristics of the lions they are protecting. So it is a win-win situation for all. They are now earning the respect and admiration of their community for having protected a lion. This is just yet another example of how the Maasai are willing to adapt their culture to changing times while still holding on to the core principles and the essence of being a Maasai Warrior, a Moran.

The on-set of the rainy season

Since the devastating drought in 2009 that created an imbalance between predators and plains game and which wiped out a very big percentage of both livestock and wildlife, the entire ecosystem has been trying to return to equilibrium. This year, the heavens have been very good in giving us the much needed rain, almost exceeding expectations. Experts in meteorology say the rainfall in most parts of the country this year is 4% above normal.

Guardian-tracking-with-storm-clouds_Philip-J-Briggs

A Lion Guardian tracking lions in the shadow of an impending storm

When the short rains came, and they came at the right time, they were not short but heavy downpours of well distributed rainfall across the entire ecosystem. As a result, everywhere you look is green and beautiful. The usual eye catching geographical features like Mt. Kilimanjaro and the attractive volcanic lava along the Chyulu range are now looking extremely awesome.

Mt.Kilimanjaro-with-snow_Philip-J-Briggs

Mt. Kilimanjaro in all of its glory

Depredation and the ever present human-wildlife conflict have drastically reduced as a result of availability of prey for predators. Plains game and other wildlife species are making their way out of the National park as usual, at this time of the year, and elephants are plentiful in Selenkay Conservancy. The warriors have also been returning with their livestock back to their permanent settlements and families. The good news is that so far there have been very few attacks on livestock, so no lion hunts have taken place.  This is in sharp contrast to the first rainfall in 2010 after the devastating drought – which resulted in the few surviving wildlife dispersing, so the lions turned to the few remaining cattle that had become even more valuable to their owners, and as a result, lion hunts were plentiful and the Lion Guardians had their work cut out for them.

Lioness-with-zebra-kill,-rainy-season_Philip-J-Briggs

Lions are feasting on the abundant wildlife that come with the rains

In related news, as a result of the heavy rains pounding the area upstream, the Eselenkei River burst its banks and thereafter changed its course to run right through our camp! It was completely flooded and a few areas will have to be rebuilt. Meanwhile, the Lion Guardians are doing everything possible to maintain the hard earned and existing peaceful climate around the ecosystem.