Tag Archives: rain

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.

My most scary moment!

Throughout my life as a moran and as a conservationist, I have had close encounters with many different species of wildlife. Most encounters especially with lions have been very serious. But I have never really felt both scared and defenseless at the same time. I always had a plan B, but not yesterday. First, after the onset of the short rains that we are currently experiencing, our vehicle got stuck in the mud in our new Southern Olgulului camp for two days. Eventually, we summoned several morans from the nearby villages and after several false attempts, we managed to get out of the mud. We rejoiced and were happy that at least we were now mobile. We decided to try and make it to our main camp in Ol Donyo Wuas. The road there was drivable which made us believe everything was now okay.

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Then two scary things happened. First, a lone buffalo confronted us out of the blue. He looked very strong and agitated. We stopped and he ran a few meters before starting to charge at us. Though it was a bit scary, we enjoyed his agitation and at the same time pitied him, thinking that his loneliness probably contributed to his aggression.

We proceeded without a problem. But not for long! A big almost fully grown elephant stood on the road. We slowed down, thinking it would soon give way. But to our utter surprise, it came at us, charging menacingly. The soil being wet because of the rain, there was no way out, but to stick to the road. Given the distance between us and the elephant, reversing was out of question.

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Knowing the behaviour of elephants when close by, we decided to stop and remain completely still and absolutely silent. Actually, you could hear a pin drop. The only noise was the elephant’s ears flapping. Standing tall, it raised its head and tail with its ears spread out. It turned its head and approached us while nodding with ears half spread. It then shook its head, twisting it from side to side and making its ears flap against its face. Then it came straight to the car threatening to gore it to pieces.

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For what seemed like a whole ten minutes the elephant stood still, practically on the bonnet of the car examining at close range what was inside it. I had never felt this scared before. I actually felt totally defenseless. We were completely dependant on the reaction of this massively built animal acting unprovoked. On realizing we were immobile, it stood in front of us and flapped its ears before threatening us once more. After blocking the road, getting agitated and getting no reaction, we knew it would go away. Eventually it did, albeit reluctantly moving at an angle. We missed a clash by a whisker. It was a very close shave. I have never felt like this before. Was this a demonstration charge or a real charge we wondered as we slowly and cautiously drove to the safety of camp.

Selenkay Conservancy full of life!

After a brief dry spell which began around June this year, some areas within the Amboseli ecosystem are now experiencing rain. The dry spell was very mild and in contrast to the devastating drought experienced in the last two years, very few pastoralists moved their livestock to temporary settlements as there was still plenty of grass available. No livestock deaths were experienced through starvation.

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Here in the Selenkay Conservancy where one of the Lion Guardians camps is based, the grass is green and the animals are plentiful. Due to the rains, the movement patterns of the animals have changed, making the usual animals we see like plains game, kudu, ostriches, elephants, giraffes, bat eared foxes, jackals, civets, servals, striped and spotted hyenas, porcupines, lions and cheetahs more abundant, and meaning that we are also getting special sightings such as toroises and honey badgers too! It truly is alive with wildlife!

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With some wildlife species especially zebra and wildebeest heavily pregnant and expected to calve soon, the level of depredation is also expected to reduce drastically. Livestock have already begun calving and this will also result in pastoralists’ happy faces as they will be able to milk their cows for the first time in two years. What a sigh of relief!

Lion Guardians busy stopping lion hunts

The Lion Guardian Games that were scheduled to be held between 27th and 29th December have unfortunately had to be postponed to a later date. The current heavy rainfall that is pounding  the Amboseli ecosystem has made some areas no-go zones and has completely blocked access to many places. This is a great blessing for the Maasai pastoralists who went through one of the worst droughts they have ever experienced in recent history, some losing almost 95% of their livestock herds.

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However, the postponement is not only due to the heavy rains. Because of the sudden increase in human-lion conflicts, the Lion Guardians are urgently needed in their areas to prevent lion deaths. Already, only a week into the rainfall, our Lion Guardians have successfully stopped several lion hunting parties within the ecosystem, all of which were in retaliation for livestock lost to carnivores.

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The prolonged drought meant that carnivores had a field day as they had easy access to food from various weak wildlife species. But now, since the few remaining zebra and wildebeest population are getting stronger by the day, the lions are targeting the returning Maasai livestock, many of them still very weak from the drought, and the pastoralists are now more than ever before understandably protective of their remaining livestock. These cows below are returning home after the drought.

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We therefore decided to postpone the Games to allow the Lion Guardians time to monitor the movements of lions and alert the community of their whereabouts to try to prevent livestock depredation and to help stop any more lion hunting parties, which are sadly seeming to be getting more and more likely in this current climate. This is an extremely important time for the Guardians, and though we were all really looking forward to the Games, they will have to wait. Now is the time to make sure we save the lives of lions.

We want to say a big thank you to everyone who contributed to make the Lion Guardian Games possible. We will keep you informed of the future dates for the Games, which are going to be even more important for team spirit and rewarding our Lion Guardians for the hard work in stopping this latest spate of lion hunts.

Rain and caterpillars!

We are very pleased to tell you that over the last few days the rains have been quite heavy! This is great news – the grass is growing, and the hills and plains are green! We hope this continues for some time, so that the animals, both wild and domestic can become healthy and strong again.

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We have also noticed a lot of beautiful caterpillars appearing. We don’t know what they are called- can anyone help?

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We hope you all have a good weekend, blessed with lots of rain like us!

First green shoots!

Finally the Lion Guardians, Maasai communities, wildlife and livestock that live together on Mbirikani, Eselenkei and Olgulului Group Ranches have experienced their first showers of rain. Everyone is very excited and thankful that at last there are a few green shoots appearing from the ground.

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Though the wildlife and livestock are still very hungry, at least there is now hope that the drought is coming to an end. The Chyulu Hills are certainly looking a little greener.

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We really hope that these showers are the start of some heavy rains, so that the Maasai people that have lost so much during the drought can start to rebuild their lives after the devastation it caused. Both people and animals have been struggling to survive and it is said that the Maasai have lost 80% of their cattle (which is equivalent to losing 80% of their money, and their livelihoods). The cattle that remain are too thin to sell, and people are unable to buy food or pay for their children’s’ school fees any more. At least these cows now have a few small green shoots to eat.

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Most people have moved away from this area with their cattle, in search of pasture, some as far away as Mombasa and Nairobi. Now everyone is hoping that the grass will grow here, and bring back some life to the area, though whether the communities will be able to fully recover after such a severe drought is uncertain. Those people who had a lot of cattle are no longer rich, and those who had only a few might now be left with nothing.

We are also hoping the wildlife that has been suffering and dying due to lack of food, will also be revitalised and strengthened. However, our big worry is that as the wildlife becomes stronger, and the weak cattle return from their long journeys in search of pasture, the lions and other carnivores in the area will start to attack livestock. The Lion Guardians are all prepared for the possibility of this, and are already warning herders to be extremely vigilant at this time, and to build up their boma walls in preparation.

Devastating drought

The drought is worsening day by day. It has not rained properly for two consecutive years, and the pastoralist Maasai community who inhabit the group ranch have moved their livestock in three directions in search of greener pastures. The cows are all becoming very thin, and many are dying.

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The first group moved their livestock all the way to Manyara in Tanzania. Others decided to take their cattle to Tsavo West National Park, but they have been experiencing serious clashes with the park authorities, who are trying to prevent the pastures of the national park from being overgrazed by cattle, leaving the ground bare.

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Following some unexpected rain in the north towards Nairobi a few weeks ago, almost all the remaining livestock has been moved that way, including some who had already gone to Tanzania, meaning they had travelled for over 400km with their herds to find grass. We are now almost resigned to the fact that it may not rain until the end of October.

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This devastating drought spares nobody. Livestock and wildlife are affected in equal measures. Elders in the group ranch are describing this drought as the worst ever, and with price of consumer goods sky-rocketing while the price of selling livestock and other domestic products are falling, the situation is triggering a catastrophic food crisis.

News from the Lion Guardians

First of all I would like to say Happy Easter to all our blog readers! I hope you enjoyed your holiday. Here in Kenya we too have been celebrating Easter, and have also been busy with many other things! We have even had a few hard rain showers!

On Saturday it was the day of my leaving party, an amazing day, which I will tell you more about soon. We also have a guest from New York, who we have been looking after. We decided the best way for her to experience the real work of the Lion Guardians was to take her into the field to do some tracking.

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We picked up the nearest Guardian, Kapande who was armed with the telemetry gear and headed to the spot where Kasayio and 2 others killed a wildebeest a few days previously. At a distance with the help of our flashlight we picked out the eyes of the trio, but alas! Kasayio was too shy for us and dashed into the nearby lava forest. The other two lions stayed out for a while, and gave us a good view for our guest whose first visit it was to Africa. What an amazing sight for her!

We also took her to meet Lion Guardian Olubi in his boma. Here they are, Olubi’s mother is to the left, and his wife to the right.

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Is this the worst drought ever?

Last week we reported a day of rain, which brought hope to the Maasai of Southern Kenya. But since that one day we have had no more rain. Some are saying this is the worst drought to hit our ranch since 1984. Elders of the pastoral communities have described it as the most dangerous of all, and the Government of Kenya has declared it a national disaster. Human beings, livestock and wildlife are malnourished and emaciated and some are dying of hunger. Scientist and other experts have expressed fears that the situation could get even worse if the rain fails between now and end of the year.

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The drought has caused a seriuos influx of herders from other ranches into our ranch, Mbirikani, and onwards through the wildlife migratory corridors to the nearby Chyulu and Tsavo national parks to compete with the wildlife for the little available grass. This contributes seriously to the depletion of the scarce resources and increases human-wildlife conflicts.  

Our Lion Guardians are having their activities doubled as they are now working around the clock to help the affected herders to look after the malnourished animals, and finding lost livestock which is wandering throughout the bush in search of water. Here Lion Guardian Olubi finds some lost goats, that might otherwise be attacked by carnivores, causing anger in the community.

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It is our sincere hope that killing of wildlife due to the anger of losing too much livestock will not occur.This is always common in situations like this, but given the on-going education from our Guardians on the importance of conserving lions, we are sure it will not happen.

Is the drought over? We find our collared male lion!

It has been extremely dry for a long time now here in Maasailand. The short rains hardly came, and the long rains that should be with us now have yet to arrive. Livestock and wildlife are dying due to lack of water and the land is becoming severely overgrazed.

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This week, however, all the herders were delighted to see some rain showers in the west and southern parts of our ranch. Livestock were able to access water at close range, unlike other days when they would have to walk for miles in search of water. We are all praying for the rains to continue, since livestock owners and herders are in such desperate need of water. 

This same week, we have located one of our collared male lions Kasayio. He usually can be found with two others, a male and a female, but he is so shy that we could only see his male comrade.

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I think the female he used to hang around with is not with them at the moment, as she was nowhere to be seen. Kasayio has been around our camp for more than three months now, although we don’t get to see him as he hides deep in the thick whistling thorn forest.