Tag Archives: tracks

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!

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.

Lion marking territory

Male lion Manenkop stayed within Selenkay conservncay for almost a year and half. During this time, he exhibited maturity and conducted himself decently, rarely causing any problems. He was a favorite of many people. When Ndelie, the current resident male lion of Selenkay’s pride, came to the conservancy, Manenkop was scared away by his deep roars that reverberated over the conservancy. He moved to an area called Tulakaria close to Osewan. Since then, he has killed several livestock and was unsuccessfully hunted by the new Moran age set a couple of times.

Manenkop marking his territory

Recently, our Lion Guardians have been reporting tracks of 2 male lions and community members have also reported hearing the constant roars of 2 lions in the same area. We highly suspect Manenkop to be one of the lions but we have yet to identify his companion. From the look of things, they are clearly marking their own territory in this remote communal land where prey species are abundant. We will soon update you on the identity of these two lions whom may be responsible for the loss of several livestock in and around Osewan.

New cubs for Nimaoi!

Nimaoi is a favorite among the Lion Guardians

We have suspected Nimaoi to have had a new litter of cubs for sometime now. But every time we try to approach her to confirm our suspicion, we found her without any. Usually we found her with her older sub-adults. We had seen tracks of cubs several times, but actually confirming their existence by getting a visual of them was becoming quite difficult. In the afternoon, a few days ago, one of our Lion Guardians from Olbili, Mingati, gave us a direction of her signal and we went to verify. Upon meandering through several whistling thorns close to the lava, we found her with 2 male cubs, and her male and female sub-adults.

One of the cubs

They were all looking pretty and healthy. Nimaoi is one of our most likeable lionesses and we wish her good luck in bringing thes cubs to maturity.

Champion eagerly awaits the Lion Guardian Games

It was a normal day like any other for Lion Guardian Mingati Makarot form Olbili zone. He woke-up early enough to see the tracks of different wildlife species before they were destroyed by passing cattle. Before long, he saw tracks of 2 big male lions. He suspected who they might belong to, but wanted to be sure of their identity. After a few kilometers, he saw 2 lions basking in the sun and immediately identified them as Kasayo and Lormanie, the inseparable pair that patrols part of his zone and was impressed by the size of their manes.

Mingati using radio telemetry to look for lions

Mingati using radio telemetry to look for lions

When he retreated back to the main road from the bush, we met and as any Maasai do, we started exchanging news. He briefed me about his work, lion movement patterns, and community issues from his area and I did the same. I then informed him that this year, we might move the annual Lion Guardian Games forward and inquired whether he was ready to defend his title as the spear throwing champion. He immediately became animated and laughed, vowing to destroy his competitors early on with the first throw and leave them to play catch-up while watching their every move, and then finish them off with the second and final throw. He talks more forcefully and says ‘last year, because of my age and size, I was afraid of the bigger Morans, but now, I fear no one’. He thanked me for informing him of this and vowed to start practicing.

Though he is small in stature, Mingati poses as a fierce competitor

Though he is small in stature, Mingati is a fierce competitor

The KLCP lion tracking website is up and running!

We are happy to announce that the KLCP lion tracking website is up and running!

www.abycats.com/klplionmap/index.html

Screen shot 2011-03-20 at 11.43.03 AM

We currently monitor 4 lions (1 male -Sikiria and 3 females – Birdie, Selenkay & Nosioki) with GPS collars on the website. Thanks to a generous donation from Original Godal Productions, KLCP & MPT are now able to closely monitor Birdie’s movements through an Iridium satellite collar. Her movements are updated nearly every day (depending on satellite coverage) while the other three lions are wearing UHF download collars which we download each month.

We want to extend a sincere thank you to Mike Calvin who has worked very hard getting this site up and running once again with some fancy new features; click on the boxes next to the lion names to see their detailed paths and hit the animate and then play button to see their daily movements. We have also added in the group ranch boundaries and the three safari lodges and camp which are within the lions’ ranges. We will continue to update the map (updating boma locations, etc.) and welcome your thoughts and suggestions.

Hope you all enjoy!

Stephanie Dolrenry, Biologist
Lion Guardian project
Living with Lions
www.livingwithlions.org
www.lionguardians.org

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...

The great search for a lion collar

One of the types of collars that are put on lions in order to track them is a kind that is set to drop off the lion on a particular date. One of our male lions, Maringa, had one of these collars, and as the date of ‘drop off’ became closer, it was critical to monitor him closely so as to be able to retrieve the precious collar, which contained all GPS data from his various travels. We put everything in motion to ensure a successful retrieve. All the Lion Guardians around his territory were on full alert and were given the necessary telemetry equipment they would need to track him. In a nutshell, everything was going as planned. Here is the wonderful male lion Maringa.

Maringa-the-lion

However, two weeks before the deadline, Maringa just disappeared into the thin air! There was no signal from his collar, and no tracks reported. The search team looked for him day and night to no avail. We were staring failure in the face, and were desperate to find him so we could retrieve his all important collar when it dropped off. The day before the deadline, we put in motion a search team that focused on one particular area called Osewan, where Maringa had been found numerous times, and where he was last seen. The search team was divided into three. One to track by car, one on motorbike and one to track on foot using their traditional skills and knowledge of the area.

tracking-for-Maringa

On the day that the collar was to come off, all teams were out very early in the morning, in a desperate attempt to find the lion. And our hard work was finally rewarded! Before long, Maringa’s signal was picked up by the motorbike team, from a distance. Co-ordination took centre stage and within no time all team members were notified. The three teams met and laid down a final strategy, excited that there was now hope in sight. We narrowed the signal down to a very thick area of bush that was almost impassable. As we closed in on the collar and the signal became louder, we all became concerned with our safety. We didn’t know the exact time the collar would drop off – so we didn’t know whether we were approaching a lion, or just a collar!

Maringas-collar

Within a few minutes of a precautionary approach, we came out in an open area of ground and suddenly we saw it! The collar was lying on the ground all by itself. The only thing that attested to Maringa’s presence before we arrived was his unmistakable tracks on the ground. Filled with joy, excitement and a sense of satisfaction, our team picked up Maringa’s collar, happy that the information it carried had not gone to waste as we had earlier feared. This is a very important lion that forms part of a small population of lions living on communal land. He is definitely worth close monitoring and our Guardians have been doing exactly that!

Here is the successful team: From left: Philip Briggs, who is monitoring the lions on Eselenkei and Olgulului for Living with Lions, Lion Guardians Coordinator Luke, Lion Guardian Sitonik, myself (Lion Guardians Coordinator Eric), Lion Guardian Gisa and LWL research assistant Lenkai.

Collar-team

Male lion eats ostrich alive!

A few days ago we received a report that a lone male lion had injured one donkey and three cows and killed another cow in Mbirikani. All this from just two bomas. We followed his tracks on foot for 15 kilometers without any diversion or rest, eager to find out who this male lion was that had caused so much destruction.

After a while we came to a place called Nkoisuk where we were greeted by a strange sight – an ostrich that had been attacked, and even partially eaten, but was still alive. It seemed that the lion had jumped onto the back of the female ostrich and did not even care to break her neck. He fed on it until he was completely satisfied and continued on his journey as if nothing had happened, and all this while the ostrich was still alive! We were completely baffled by this behaviour. Here is the poor ostrich.

Live-ostrich-snack-(2)

The size of his tracks, his strategy while passing by human settlements, his choice of territory and the fact that he was alone all pointed to one individual – Lomunyak. We carried on following the tracks, until we found the spot he had been resting. It seemed he had run off from the place just a minute before, probably after hearing us approaching. Though we were unable to see him, I have no doubt in my mind that it was Lomunyak. He has been elusive for several months now, so we are very glad to find him again.

Cubs battle hunger and lion hunts to survive!

Hi, this is Eric.

Recently we told you the news that two young male lions had been spotted by Lion Guardian Lenkina in the same area that Mbeuti and her cubs used to live in. After the sad spearing of Mbeuti by the new age-set of morans back in March, her two 13-month old male cubs escaped unhurt, but many predicted their death owing to their young age. Here they are back with their mother, before the sad event.

Mbeuti and cubs_2010_Feb_24

However we are now pretty sure that they have defied all the odds and have survived! This must be largely due to the good care their mother gave them before she met her fate. Since the spearing, these cubs moved from place to place, far and wide, in search of their mother, but to no avail. The pangs of hunger were biting hard, they knew they must kill to survive but did not know how. And here they are!

Mbeuti's cubs_2010_Jul_05 (23)

It turns out that during the months of March and April they terrorized more than 10 bomas, killing goats and injuring donkeys but eating none, as they were chased away by angry owners. They even survived many attempted attacks themselves! At the height of the conflicts, the Lion Guardians in conjunction with other stakeholders, managed to stop 3 more lion hunts, all caused in retaliation for livestock killed by these two cubs. It seems they had some close escapes, and since then have never again killed livestock – perhaps they have learnt their lesson! We certainly hope so.

Mbeuti's cubs

A few days ago, we got another report of two young lion tracks around the same area that Mbeuti and her cubs used to patrol. We summoned our team of reputable trackers! Upon finding the tracks, many thought they might be a female and a cub, as one was slightly bigger than the other. But as soon as I saw them, I knew they were familiar tracks! These tracks surely belonged to Mbeuti’s cubs.

At their age, they have defied all predictions to survive for the last three months. Now I hope they can continue to grow big and handsome like Maringa and Pua, and avoid livestock and people. The Lion Guardians will do their best to enable this to happen.