Tag Archives: lion

Proud of Birdie’s pride

Birdie Naape has been known by the Lion Guardians since 2004. Her Maasai name ‘Naape’ was given to her by the Lion Guardians monitoring her because she moves large distances on regular occasions across her home range.

Birdie, one of the oldest females in the ecosystem, has raised many cubs

When Birdie and her daughters Nempirbil and Nanyorri gave birth to a combined total of 9 cubs, we knew if the cubs survive, they will be one of the biggest prides in the ecosystem. The cubs which are now almost a year, look very healthy. The ability of these females to hunt together ensures a constant supply of meat which is critical to the growth of any lion. Yesterday, we found this pride resting in the open with a view of a large group of buffalos grazing nearby. The buffalos, whose population drastically reduced after the devastating 2009 drought look to be on the increase, especially along the Chyulu ranges.

Nanyorri is a Maasai name meaning "she who is loved"

This pride lives in one of the wildest places in the ecosystem therefore standing a better chance of increasing in numbers and raising the cubs to maturity. Sikiria and Oyayai, who are the resident male pair, stay nearby and pay occasional visits. Having been sponsored, this pride, which is now 14 in total, is one of the biggest in the ecosystem and our Lion Guardians are happy to keep on monitoring them to ensure their safety.

Nembirbil and her cubs

Re-union with Sikiria

Sikiria is a male lion that initially baffled us with his movement patterns. However, since arriving at Mbirikani, he has found a perfect area to settle in. Oltiasika is an ideal lion habitat which is full of prey, water, enough females and has one of the best places to hide, the lava. Apart from engaging in some serious and consistent livestock depredation that almost stretched communal tolerance to the limit, Sikiria and his brother Oyayai had a very bright side unknown to many… dreams of expansion!

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Sikiria and his brother Oyayai (standing) taking a break after an unsuccessful hunt for an eland

They have sired not less than 10 cubs in a very short time with 4 females in the area. Some of these cubs are now nearly eight months thanks to the constant care of their mothers in one of the safest areas in the ecosystem, the lava. Yesterday, when we found Sikiria and his brother shortly before sunset, I was amazed by their body size, sheer beauty and elegant manes. Sikiria has grown big in a short time and as usual, was absolutely at ease with our car while stretching with the beautiful Chyulu hills in the background. Eland are a favorite prey, and we watched as one luckily escaped the pair. By the look of things, the usual nomadic tendencies for this pair will be restricted to the Oltiasika area, courtesy of prey, safety and love.

Oyayai  and his brother seem to have settled, for now, in the Oltiasika area of Mbirikani Group Ranch

Oyayai and his brother seem to have settled, for now, in the Oltiasika area of Mbirikani Group Ranch

Large concentration of lions in fatal habitat

Osewan is a re-known thicket that extends well beyond the jurisdiction of Lion Guardians. The Maasai section that inhabit most of this area are called Matapato and are yet to benefit from the fruits of conservation, thus highly intolerant to predators that kill their livestock. This is the same area in which one of our most beloved, well behaved and friendly female lions, Nosioki, and her cub were poisoned in October of last year. Even though, together with other stakeholders, we convened several community meetings in an effort to eradicate poisoning, we are still worried.

Nooldoinyo

Nooldoinyo

Pua, the resident male lion of Nosioki’s pride and the male cub that mysteriously survived the poisoning incident, have both been a permanent feature in this particular area, probably believing that Nosioki will one day suddenly show up. A few days ago, they were joined by 5 sub-adults from a female called Nooldoinyo, who also receives occasional visits from Pua. When these youngsters make a kill, they roar in an effort to invite their mother to the party and at times, they are known to even roar during the day. From our experience, this could invite trouble because every livestock lost will be attributed to them and retaliation might not be far off! Just a few days ago, they killed 10 goat kids in the same area and the 11th kid escaped by climbing a very tall ant-hill to outwit these youngsters. Understandably, people were not happy but we managed to cool them down.

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Pua the resident male of Noisoki's pride

Another group of lions from Eselenkei Group Ranch, who are also Nosioki’s off-spring, are known to inhabit part of this thick bush in Osewan. A male lion called Manenkop from Selenkay Conservancy has been making occasional visits in search of company but has now been there for the last 2 months. This brings the total population of lions in this particular communal area to a staggering figure of 11! This is an immensely high concentration of lions in a communal area without adequate monitoring. This is the same area in which we lost five lions in a span of six months last year. We therefore urgently need money to immediately employ at least 3 Lion Guardians from the Matapato section to monitor this area in which our current guardians are restricted. The protection and safety of this significant proportion of lions that we monitor will now depend on your willingness and ability to be part of the solution.

Manenkop

Manenkop

Nchaama-our newest Lion Guardian

In line with the on-going Maasai traditional transition process, within the institution of Moranism, we have recruited Nchaama as our newest Lion Guardian. He has received all the necessary training and is slowly being molded by our senior Guardians and is proving to be a valuable addition to the Lion Guardian team. Upon our recruitment of him, his age-mates in the whole of Mbirikani Group Ranch chose him as their undisputed leader. This is a symbolic gesture that carries with it great influence, respect and power not only among his age-mates but also the wider community.

Nchaama has recently joined the ranks as the newest Lion Guardian

Nchaama has recently joined the ranks as the newest Lion Guardian

He is a strong, brave and above all, a respectful young Moran who ably displayed his skills during the Lion Guardian games where he gave the senior Guardians a run for their money in almost every event. He actually won a prize for his efforts that seem to come from a ‘spring of energy’. Hailing from a well-known conflict “hot spot” zone, Nchaama is a good tracker. These are skills that will come in handy during his lion monitoring and community work.

Lenkina, Nchaama, Logoi and Kamunu at the Lion Guardian games

Lenkina, Nchaama, Logoi and Kamunu at the Lion Guardian games

Among the lions that crisscross his expansive zone and who will be monitored by Nchaama, are Birdie with her cubs, Nemasi and her 3 cubs, and the resident pair of male lions, Kasayo and Lormanie who like to patrol alongside the volcanic lava of his zone. Nchaama is a prominent figure that can often be sighted on the exciting landscape that forms his zone. After being hired as a Lion Guardian Nchaama said “I promise to vote for lions my entire life and challenge all of  his enemies to become good friends like me.’’ We intend to benefit from his immense pool of skills and influence, as we look forward to safeguarding the existing lion population within the Amboseli ecosystem.

Selekay Conservancy comes to life!

With the current well distributed short rains having made the whole terrain verdant, wild ungulates found perfect reason for a holiday outside Amboseli National Park. They streamed out as they usually do into the open plains and ranches adjacent to the Park. Hundreds of elephant families from the park were the first to make forays outside and they found plenty of green grass and vegetation. The seasonal Selenkei River did not disappoint as it burst its banks and poured the much needed pools of water to the seasonally swampy, yet flat landscape in the Conservancy. The elephants enjoy the silence and the almost undisturbed natural green vegetation that is lacking in the park.

Elephant enjoying the lushness of the Selenkay Conservancy

Elephant enjoying the lush grass

Giraffes also invaded in big groups and from the look of things, their number must have increased tenfold over the last few years based on their abundance. Elands, zebra and wildebeests are in the hundreds, as well as different species of gazelles and antelopes. The plush green landscape makes for a perfect breeding ground, not to mention the close proximity of seasonal water sources. The Conservancy is also home to thousands of different bird species with their beautiful morning and sundowner musical sounds a constant companion.

Nempakai

Nempakai

What has made this festive season in Selenkay Conservancy very unique is the number of lions. Selenkay pride, which is a group of 11 lions, now inhabits the south eastern side bordering Mbirikani. Manenkop, Pua and cub, as well as 3 of Nosioki’s sub adults have made the north western side closer to Tulakaria their home. A few days ago, Nempakaai, Nolakunte and Asama, who are well known Park lions, followed the prey and are now in the south of the Conservancy. They have with them 5 cubs that are almost a year old. Asama, a well known livestock killer has reportedly, unsuccessfully tried to enter into temporary bomas at night but failed. My prayer and hope is that these lions stay out of trouble and find reason to make Selenkay Conservancy a permanent habitat. If all of these lion stay till the end of the long rains, Selenkay Conservancy will be the envy of many since it will boast of a lion population of 25!!

Nempakai's cubs playing just out side of Amboseli Park

Nempakai's cubs playing

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Biggest pride resides in Eselenkei

For survival reasons, lions outside protected areas hang out in groups of between two to three. By splitting, they stand better chances of survival from persecution after depredation of livestock. However, for the first time in the history of Eselenkei conservancy, a pride of eleven resides in it. Our female lioness Selenkay, has had two cubs from the previous litter graduate to sub-adult status and now has four little cubs. Her sister Elikan has two cubs as well. The resident male lion called Ndelie, makes the total number of lions an impressive eleven.

Selenkei and cub

Selenkay and cub

This is a new record number of lions outside the Amboseli National Park. These lions have moved from Mbirikani to Eselenkei because of the ideal and favorable climate. There are plenty of prey species and Lion Guardians are doing daily monitoring in and across the conservancy. Tourists from the nearby Amboseli- Porini camp are having a field day with such a big number of lions. Traditional lion hunts have been prohibited and the community MPT game scouts are present to enforce the rules. Thus the existing climate gives lions plenty of reasons to stay, hunt and mate as well as nurturing their little ones to maturity.

Elikan after a kill

Elikan after a kill

However, these lions are also showing a worrying trend. Since moving from Mbirikani to Eselenkei, they have killed seven cows so far, all of which are worth more than $4,000. This is cause for sleepless nights. It beats logic to understand why this pride is killing livestock in an area full of wild prey. It is our hope that they will stop killing livestock during the day and hunt what is rightfully theirs for the taking…wild prey. If they succeed in doing this, they stand a better chance of raising their second litter of cubs to maturity, which in turn will bring much joy to the Lion Guardian family.

Eselenkei pride cubs enjoying a cow

Eselenkei pride cubs enjoying a cow

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.