Tag Archives: lion conservation

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.

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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.

Nosioki’s male cub still alive

After our female lion Nosioki and her female cub were poisoned in Osewan in Matapato outside our jurisdiction, we thought that was the end for this pride. The white poisonous substance obtained from Tanzania that was used is so lethal; we thought nothing will be spared. The male cub that survived was barely a year and even though cubs are normally weaned by 8 months, they are not independent of adults until 18 months and we therefore gave him zero chance to survive on his own.

Nosioki's male cub

Nosioki's male cub

Having mysteriously survived the lethal poison, the Lion Guardians have been on the lookout for him. His tracks have consistently been seen by our Lion Guardian Sitonik, but because he stayed on his own for so long we were still concerned for his future. Despite the fact that the elders banned poisoning in the area, our investigations revealed that another product called Red cat, which is used to eradicate rodents and is easily available in Kenya, has reportedly been used on cats to cause maximum death. It has also been tested by people in the area on dogs to deadly effect!

Sitonik with Nosioki's poisoned daughter

Sitonik with Nosioki's poisoned daughter

As a result of the on-going short rains, Osewan area has received a substantial amount of rain, causing an influx of both livestock and people. Lion Guardians were instructed to be extra vigil. A few days ago, Sitonik reported seeing clear tracks of Pua, who was the male in Nosioki’s pride, with a cub moving away from the area towards the hills. This is a very important revelation because the male cub will now stand a better chance of survival under the custody of his father than on its own! We will continue to keep you updated on his progress.

Pua

Pua

Problem Lion

Two new lions have been spotted patrolling Amboseli National Park. Whenever these two brothers, Amboga and Companion, move into a new area, the resident male lions there move out. Amboga and Companion are now the new kids on the block in the park. They have made the northwestern side of the park their home and have managed to chase Kip, one of the resident lions known to Lion Guardians, out of the area and into the communal land along the Kenyan-Tanzania border. As a result, Kip has been terrorizing Maasai bomas and killing livestock frequently. He now resides in Kitirwa conservancy and makes occasional forays into Tanzania.

Amboga

Amboga

Recently, he killed several shoats (goats and sheep) and cows in Tanzania and then crossed over to Kenya. On another occasion, he killed a cow and subsequently injured a Maasai warrior (murran) who was part of a group hunting him. Kip was able to escape. Several times the Maasai have hunted for him unsuccessfully. A few days ago, he was shot at with guns along the border in Tanzania, he luckily escaped again and crossed over to Kenya where he terrorized more bomas (Maasai livestock enclosure) along the boundary. He is currently a wanted lion in this area.

Kip

Kip

Clearly, even though he is alive for now, he is under the spot light and could be living his last days. What is hard to understand is why Kip, whom is not very old, doesn’t hunt the abundant wildlife that resides in and around the park. Why he has developed a soft spot for livestock meat is only known by him. If he consigns himself to Kenya he stands a better chance of surviving because there people are more tolerant to predators compared to their Tanzanian counterparts.

Kip

Kip

Conflict-resolution meeting after Nosioki killing

After the poisoning of Nosioki and her cub, there was a meeting yesterday in Matapato to discuss the incident. People were calm since the two suspects that had been arrested a few days prior were released on the eve of the meeting in a surprise move by KWS. Before the release the Group Ranch was furious, they didn’t know arrests were possible due to the fact that previously, 3 lions had been killed in this area with no arrests made. Therefore, they were very happy for the release.  The elders from the Group Ranch where the suspects come from begged for forgiveness of the conservationists present ( MPT, Big Life Foundation, Lion Guardians, and KWS) while vowing such an incident will never take place again. They decried the act saying it was cowardly and has no place in the Maasai tradition, saying instead ’when a brave Maasai is annoyed he uses his spear’.

Conflict-resolution meeting

Conflict-resolution meeting

During the meeting, the elders revealed that a few months ago unbeknownst to us, they decided to set aside Osewan (a thicket full of different wildlife species) as a conservancy with an elected committee in order to receive an income. They invited several conservation stakeholders present (those mentioned above) to work closely with them to help increase levels of tolerance towards wildlife and to develope this fledgling conservancy still in its nascent stage. They announced to all and sundry that they will curse anyone who will use poisoning within their territory and will hand him over to the authorities for possible prosecution. Two District Wardens present also decried the use of poison and lion killing in the area in general.

Cremation of Nosioki and her cub

Cremation of Nosioki and her cub

Leaders from both Olgulului Group Ranch and Mailua Group Ranch were present in the well attended meeting that recognized the critical role and vigilance by the Lion Guardians in the field. This was a very good meeting considering the usual tempers that flare wherever the agenda is livestock-lion related. We left the meeting with mixed feelings, worried with the precedent that will be set by the sudden release of suspects but buoyed by the glimmer of hope that a  conservancy will bring to the future of the area. Whether this will happen or not, only time will tell.

The Lion Guardian Transition

The Maasai, as a community, form a distinctive social unit sharing a culture, language and social structures. Structures such as age-sets and clans form the most important framework for both the social and political organization of the communities. Through them, every person has well defined roles, responsibilities, rights and obligations in relation to every other person in society. Traditionally, the Maasai’s social structure is based on a series of age-sets. Age-sets are the link that unites all the men and woman of a given age into a single comprehensive social institution.

Approximately every 14 years a new age-set (olaji) of warriors is initiated. When new generations of warriors are initiated the existing warriors move on to become junior elders. As each boy is circumcised between age 12 and 14, he is incorporated into a generational age-set. He and his cohorts pass through the stages of warriors to junior elders then to senior elders and finally to retired elders each lasting an undefined time frame. The senior elders have the primary responsibility for the traditional administration in Maasailand. Junior elders implement the instructions of their senior elders. The warriors (murran) are the defensive unit of the community and protect them against cattle-rustling neighbors and attacking predators. The warriors are well suited for this role. Members of an age-set must respect their sponsors/patrons (i.e. the senior elders to the warriors), but routinely experience tension and competition with the adjacent age-sets that immediately precede and follow them (i.e. the warriors to the junior elders).

Warriors singing

Warriors singing

Currently a new generation of warriors has come of age. Many of them are now actively participating in the ‘meat eating sessions’ where Maasai traditional and cultural values are instilled on them. Tradition demands that the new warriors learn the art of survival, cattle raiding and warfare against neighboring tribes and attacking carnivores. This is where our greatest fear lies. In the past, killing a lion was a valuable act and proof of bravery. It carried with it prestige, status and respect in equal measure. The dwindling lion population within the Amboseli ecosystem cannot afford any more age-set related traditional killings. The two previous age-sets almost wiped out the lion population in the area.

Newly initiated warriors dancing

Newly initiated warriors dancing

The Lion Guardian program, is working to create awareness and community mobilization against the current killing of lions. We incorporate the warrior age-set into lion conservation and research: in the process we inculcate them with values that allows the traditional warriors to hold on to their cultural practices of proving their strength and endurance by spending days in the bush tracking lions while at the same time, discarding retrogressive practices such as the spearing of lions, which is detrimental to the declining lion population in general and tourism as well.

Our program has already begun undergoing a slow transition in line with the current warriors to junior elders traditional transition. We have been honored that a few of our older Lion Guardians have been recruited into the ranks of MPT’s community game scouts. In their places, we have taken on board a few promising fledgling warriors belonging to the newly initiated age-set. One of our new recruits has just been elected by his fellow age mates as their age-set leader.

Our newest Lion Guardian, and leader of his age-set

Our newest Lion Guardian(far right), and leader of his age-set

We are thrilled to be teaching these young, newly minted warriors about lions, conservation and hope for the future. The new Guardians are being trained by the senior Lion Guardians in a multi-faceted approach aimed at minimizing the issue of traditional lion killing. This is of particular concern because many of the newly initiated warriors are waiting for the coming of the rains when strong livestock return to the permanent homesteads. This is a time of feast and celebration as all the new warriors are together. Traditionally, it is during this time when warriors prove their strength and courage to the community, as well as woo young women by spearing lions. In the past decade, the most lions have been killed during the rainy seasons. The rains are just beginning now. In anticipation of this, we have, over the past few months, begun to hire and train as many of the new warriors as we can afford. We have now welcomed two new warriors to the Lion Guardians team and are actively trying to incorporate more.

Cubs, cubs, everywhere!

We are very excited!  We have just confirmed the 7th set of cubs under 6 months old within Lion Guardian areas!!!! That means that every adult female in our study area is currently with offspring! We’ve never documented such an occurrence before. It seems there is a lot of hope for the future!!! ladycub_thumb3
Nemasi moving one of her cubs to a new hiding spot Here is the breakdown: Nemasi has 3 small cubs about 6 months old, Mbalueni also has 3 small ones of the same age, Elikan has 2 five month olds, and Birdie, who lost the cubs we blogged about earlier this year to infanticide, now has new cubs as well! Also, Birdie’s two adult daughters, Nanyorri and Nembirbil, each have small cubs about 2 months old.Nosero-with-3-cubs

Even Selenkay has 3 one month old cubs stashed away right on the border of three group ranches. Selenkay is staying with the her small cubs, her two 18 month old  female cubs (recently named Neeki and Meoshi by the Lion Guardians), the new cubs’ father, Ndelie, and her sister Elikan. This group is moving between southern Eselenkei and western Mbirikani.

Neeki, Selenkay, Ndelie and Elikan

Neeki, Selenkay, Ndelie and Elikan

Lioness Nimaoi doesn’t have small cubs but she’s still with her two 20 month old cubs, a male named Len’gan’ga and a female named Neluai. Nimaoi is a favorite of males Kasaiyo and Lormanie so it shouldn’t be too long before she too may have some new cubs herself! Also, lioness Nosioki has 3 older cubs, but she is in a northern thick forested area called Osewan which is very difficult to access so we’ve been unable to see her for many months, but the Lion Guardians have been finding her tracks along with those of her cubs and the cubs’ father Pua Mederi. Lioness Nempakai also has 2 young cubs, but she has moved out of Lion Guardian areas and into the safety of Amboseli National Park.

You can check out Selenkay, Birdie, Ndelie and Nempakai’s movements at Abycats lion map.

Abycats Lion Movement Map

Abycats Lion Movement Map

You can see that the lionesses go out hunting every night, but always return to a central location. This is where the cubs are hidden away, while their mamas go hunting and looking for water.

We now have our work set out for us!  Our big challenge will be to try to keep the adult population as stable as possible – if any females are killed, we will lose their cubs as well. These cubs are dependent on their mothers for several years to help them learn how to hunt and protect themselves. Since we don’t have prides, there aren’t aunties around to help raise the cubs if the mothers are killed. Also, if any males are killed, this may result in new movements of males, which may lead to more cub infanticide which we saw earlier this year between Birdie’s young cubs and Sikiria.

A lioness unsuccessfully trying to protect her cubs ©Sara Blackburn

A lioness unsuccessfully trying to protect her cubs ©Sara Blackburn

LG Mushaga finding lions

LG Mushaga finding lions

The Lion Guardians are out there every day keeping track of the lions’ locations and helping prevent depredations and killings from occurring.  In order for this population to grow – these lion cubs are going to have to survive for at least another one and a half to two years. We need your support to help keep the Lion Guardian project running.  Please make your donation today.  Every little bit helps keep the Lion Guardians on the ground, monitoring and protecting these lions. We will keep you posted as all these new cubs grow and begin to explore the world around them!

An update from the LWL Mara Predator Project

While Eric is away, we thought you might enjoy some updates from the Living With Lions Mara Predator Project.  Click here to read the most recent MPP Blog.

Hey cub - haven't you ever heard of letting sleeping lions lie?

Hey cub - haven't you ever heard of letting sleeping lions lie?

The Living With Lions Annual Report is now available!

Living With Lions, the parent organization of Lion Guardians, has several other projects operating in Kenya, in addition to Lion Guardians!  Please read LWL’s annual report, which we have just posted to our website, to learn more about these great projects!  And please remember that we rely on your support to finance these projects, so please support us by donating here.

Click here to go to Living With Lions Annual Reports

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It was a remarkable year for Living with Lions, with conservation accomplishments in each project area which can be adapted for use in many other parts of Africa. In the Amboseli region, the drought of 2009 killed off 70-85% of lions’ wild prey, forcing them to turn to the remaining Maasai livestock, itself reduced by at least 60%. Starving lions started invading Maasai bomas to kill cattle, and in the first three months of 2010, 16 lions were speared or poisoned in the one small area which as yet had no Lion Guardians program; in the rest of the region, the Guardians stopped dozens of lion hunts, and none were killed.  This stunning success in protecting lions during a major crisis has shown the Guardians concept to be an extraordinarily effective lion conservation strategy for areas outside parks. To a biologist, an equally impressive development has been the Guardians’ efficacy at finding, identifying, and cataloguing the region’s remaining lions. Persecuted predators are nocturnal, very shy, and nearly impossible to count. Working with our biologists, the Guardians have identified essentially every lion in the region, documenting lengthy movements and very large home ranges. This is an unprecedented accomplishment, remarkable testimony to the field skills of the Lion Guardians and incredibly hard work by LWL biologists.

In the Mara, Sara Blackburn has demonstrated the accuracy and efficiency of her lion monitoring method that depends on training tourism guides and their guests in accurate lion identification. This year, she is expanding her coverage from 350 to over 1000 square kilometers of this critically important region.

In Laikipia, Alayne Cotterill has made great progress in her dissertation work to determine if lions can change their spatial and temporal use of the landscape to reduce conflict with people and livestock. Long time collaborator Michael Calvin has re-activated the lion tracking website he developed several years ago, which plots the details of GPS-collared lion movements on Google Earth, allowing anyone to see how our study animals are using the landscape: http://www.abycats.com/laikipialionmap/ and http://www.abycats.com/klplionmap.

As Project Administrator, Lisette Gelber has transformed LWL into a far more organized and efficient organization. In 2010 LWL became  formally incorporated in Kenya and in 2011 we will be incorporating as a US nonprofit.

We hope you will find the reports interesting, and welcome any questions or inquiries.

Best regards,

Dr. Laurence Frank, Founder and Director
Living With Lions

Birdie’s three new cubs

After receiving reports of lion tracks from our lion guardians, our team went to verify. Upon reaching the site of the tracks, we did call-in and awaited with excitement. After a brief period of silence, we heard some little meows that grew louder as time went by. It was clear that whichever lion was approaching, they had small cubs. The anticipation grew palpable amongst our team members.

Eventually, when the lions came close to us, we were able to instantly identify them as Birdie’s pride. Birdie had three small cubs! She was accompanied by the other members of her pride [2 sub-adult females and a sub-adult male]. We were very happy that 3 more potential members of our little lion population have been brought forth. They were close to the thicket in Oltiasika. This is an ideal place because of its proximity to water and it is preferred by many lion prey species.

Birdie with her cubs

Birdie with her cubs

Birdie's cubs with their aunt

Birdie’s cubs with their aunt – hopefully in a few months she too will have cubs of her own!

A few weeks earlier, on Valentine’s day, we found our well travelled lion Sikiria  seriously mating with one of Birdie’s sub-adult females. They seemed to have formed a common bond just at the right time and place and were completely inseparable. We left them on their own to continue with their ‘serious reproductive work’ hoping that Sikiria will eventually settle in one particular area and start his own pride.

Sikiria spending quality time with Birdie's daughter

Sikiria spending quality time with Birdie's daughter

Sikiria making his move...

Sikiria making his move...

Lion Guardians 2010 Annual Report Ready

We are pleased to tell you that the 2010 Lion Guardians Annual Report is ready. We have had an incredible year, and have expanded our lion monitoring and community work south of Amboseli National Park. There are currently 29 Lion Guardians monitoring lions and mitigating carnivore conflict in their communities.

Please follow this link to the report: http://www.livingwithlions.org/AnnualReports/2010-LionGuardians-Annual-Report.pdf

Thank you for supporting the Lion Guardians program and helping us conserve the remaining lions in the Amboseli Ecosystem.

Warmest regards,
Leela Hazzah
Director, Lion Guardians