Last week I was privileged enough to spend an evening with some members of the our adoption lions.
The lions in question – Enesikiria pride – live in the Naboisho conservancy on the edge of the Masai Mara Game Reserve. What became clear pretty quickly is that this pride are local celebrities. Conservancy staff and visitors alike are all very proud to them.
Lions – unlike leopards and other big cats – like to spend their time in open areas. This – together with the loud roaring (something the pride is renowned for) – means that they are regularly observed. Because they are so visible people are often mislead into thinking that there are more lions then there actually are. In fact Africa’s lion population has declined greatly – with at least a 30% decrease in the past two decades alone.
Luckily, our lions are all looking very healthy and it was nice to see Dada and Spot with their cubs. There is something funny about lions: it doesn’t matter how many times you see them they are always inspiring!
What many people don’t realise about lion prides is that they don’t always stay together. On the day we found the pride it was split up into a few groups.
The first group we came across was Simiren and Simaloi. Simaloi is in oestrus at the moment so Simiren and her had separated from the main pride to mate. They had spent the day lying up in thickets, when we found them. While watching them we saw some interesting behavior, three black backed jackals who are obviously used to the lions came up to the them and trying to establish whther they had a kill with them in the thicket.
When we saw to of the other lionesses – Dada and Spot – we were delighted to see six young clubs with them. This is a good sign for the pride. Spot’s cubs are now about 3 months old while Dada’s cubs are older but they all look look strong and healthy.
It was interesting to see that the females were very tolerant of the vehicles which indicates that they are now used to cars and aren’t being harassed. The conservancy has only been functioning for four years (before that it was farmland) and it took a while for the lions to get used to cars and I am told that recently Dada was very defensive of the pride and had been aggressive towards vehicles. However – over time the guides have patiently gained her trust.
Before the conservancies these lions might have been hunted by herders to protect their cattle. Farmers still periodically graze in the conservancy, but now better grazing practices – the benefits communities gain from tourism – has meant that people are not persecuting lions. The conservancy also has more wildlife around which means the lions have enough food and don’t eat as much cattle, so it’s a win-win all round.
While watching the cubs we became aware of a small herd of elephants approaching the pride. The elephants seemed oblivious to the lion’s presence and came quiet close.
Many people will know that lions and elephants don’t get on very well; lions sometimes kill young elephants and in places where there are high numbers of elephants there are prides which have become specialists at hunting these giant African animals. The result is that some herds with young elephants don’t tolerate lions. Luckily for our pride these elephants were big enough not be concerned over the lions. However Dada – an experienced mum – was taking no chances and – despite the enthusiasm of the cubs to check out these big grey things – she lead them away, which as it turned out was a good thing.
The lions at the moment seem very safe and content, but looking at these cubs the biggest challenge is what will happen to the young males… on reaching maturity, the young males will be thrown out of the pride. They’ll wander until they grow up and are strong enough to form their own pride.
During this period these lions are very vulnerable. It’s almost a certainty that they will go onto community land and will kill cattle and livestock. The Mara Lion Project (our partners in lion conservation) start a research project this year to understand where these lions go and what happens to them. It’s vital for the long term survival of lions that these individuals are able to make it to adulthood and return to take on prides of their own. This insures strong genetic diversity in lions vital for a long term healthy lion population.
We work with partners like the Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancy Association, Kenyan Wildlife Service, Narok County council and the Mara lion project to ensure that lions are able to do this.