First Litter

After not having been seen for a few months despite numerous attempts, Nimaoi was finally drawn out of the depths of the whistling thorn one night with the promise of a free lion left-over wildebeest carcass. Looking thin and fatigued, she tore into the meat with ravenous enthusiasm, too hungry to be very concerned by our presence or the spotlight, enabling perfect viewing. To our delight, her nipples were swollen and prominent – a sign she had produced her first litter of cubs and is now lactating. 

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We suspected she had the cubs hidden away in the rocky lava bed. Born completely helpless, cubs are often left hidden whilst the mother goes off to hunt or socialise with other pride members, sometimes even for periods of over 24 hours. Only after 4 weeks or more do cubs begin accompanying their mother.  

Early January we were delighted to find Nimaoi with 3 adorable little cubs. Initially she kept them mostly hidden in the bushes so we were lucky to get a few quick glimpses, but with each subsequent visit they all became much more relaxed with the vehicle. The cubs appear to be about a month old.

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Nimaoi spent many months in Kasaiyo’s company so we suspect he is the father. It will be interesting to see whether she joins up with Kasaiyo and Lormanie again once the cubs have grown a little bigger. We will monitor mother and cubs closely and keep you updated with their progress.

Are ears tasty?

Recently, I responded to Lion Guardian Parkisian’s report of 4 lions (see Lion Guardians stop lions in their tracks!). When we found Nempakai and the others feeding on the freshly killed zebra, we observed a sight which is not unusual for us to see – the large female went first for the zebra’s ears. She was very protective and intent on getting the ears first and not letting any other lion (Nempakai or the cubs) interfere. Here she is threatening the cub who is interested in helping her eat the ear (note her laid back ears – we could hear her growling and she even swiped at Nempakai when she came too close!):

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We’ve noticed on almost all the lion kills we’ve found that the ears are missing, even if there is still tasty meat left on the hindquarters. We’re not sure why they seem to prefer to eat the ears first.  As the Living with Lions director Laurence Frank put it “maybe they just like the taste of ear wax”

The burden of cubs and roads

Last month we downloaded the GPS collars of the females Nosieki and Selenkay. It was very interesting to see how their movements differed. Selenkay roamed widely while Nosieki stuck to one area which is far from any homesteads, roads, or other establishments. This is probably because she still has little ones in tow. Here is a map of Nosieki’s movements:

Nos Oct Map

And a current picture of Nosieki’s male cub:

Nosieki’s male cub


While here is Selenkay’s map:

Sel Oct map

As you can see, Selenkay covered a much larger distance. She went right up to Mbirikani town, a place of many people and stores. Also, when she went to the main road at and north of Mbirikani town she did not cross it but she did cross the big road in the southern part of Mbirikani group ranch. This is very interesting because the road at and north of Mbirikani town is now a tarmacked road while in the southern part of the ranch, the road has yet to be tarmacked.

Maybe Selenkay feels more comfortable crossing dirt roads than tarmacked roads?

Taratibu, the lion sniffer

In our Eselenkei camp, we have a dog. Now, this is no regular dog. First off, he looks similar to a lion. He is a tawny red, large African Boerboel. This breed of dog originates from South Africa where they bred Bull Mastiffs with African hunting dogs. Historically, these dogs were used particularly to protect homesteads and to hunt lions!

Tibu with beads

We didn’t get Taratibu (Swahili meaning ‘to go with care’ though we call him Tibu for short meaning ‘to cure or heal’) for hunting lions, though these days he is helping us hunt their scat (or more commonly referred to as poop). We are collecting lion scat from as many individual lions as we can find to be used in DNA studies of the lion population here in the Amboseli ecosystem. In other non-protected areas of Kenya where we, the Living with Lions project work, it is generally hard to find lion scat. Many other carnivores such as genets, civets, hyenas, etc. eat the meaty lion excrement before we can find it. Lately, since our move to Eselenkei and Olgulului group ranches, we’ve had great success finding lion scat on a regular basis. We think this success can be attributed to several reasons:    1. Lenkai is a great tracker so he has helped us to know where to look to find scat (near lion kills, along regularly used trails, near resting sites, etc.     2. The new study areas don’t have thick lava flow forests (like Mbirikani group ranch does) where the lions can hide all day & excrete their scat.

We are very excited about this new opportunity to non-invasively study the Amboseli ecosystem lions. To help us on our quest for scat, we’ve trained Tibu to sniff out lion scat for us. Now, Tibu isn’t a typical working dog – let’s just say his motivations levels are a bit low. He loves to go for walks and sniff all the wildlife around, but he isn’t too motivated by food or rewards and he definitely doesn’t like to run too much. We thought we’d give him a try as a lion scat sniffer and to our surprise he is doing excellent! He loves lion poop (he’d love to eat it if he could) so when we set out into the bush he wanders around until he catches the whiff of scat and then takes us to it. Here is a picture of Tibu indicating a pile of lion scat he found.

Tibu on scat

Tibu is the joy of our camp. He loves playing with the Lion Guardians when they come to visit. They all love to tease and play with Tibu, especially Kamunu. Here is a picture of Tibu and Kamunu playing in camp.

Kamunu & Tibu

The day the sky turned brown

In an attempt to solve the mystery of which lone female lion had left tracks below Safaricom Hill, Lion Guardian Pilenanka and I drove to the top of the hill for some telemetry tracking. From our vantage point and one of Mbirikani Group Ranch’s stunning locations, we could see patches of rain falling in the distance and were excited at the prospect that relief from the long drought might finally be on its way.

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Signals from our collared lions, Selenkay and Narika, whom are often found in the area, indicated that they had moved onto Olgulului, a neighbouring Group Ranch, so we returned to the car with the intention of heading back down the hill to continue with our detective work.

However, instead of roaring to life, the car refused to start. So absorbed in trying to get the car started, we were completely oblivious to the storm clouds forming over the Chyulu Hills. As our mechanical skills lacked the finess to solve the starting problem and our strength combined proving inadequate to push the car for a push start, we took a break to contemplate our next move. Only then did we notice an ominous cloud like no other, travelling at a great speed in our direction!

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We both watched in wonderment as the cloud closed in, never having witnessed anything like it before. We watched as it turned from grey to brown, increasing in volume as it raced towards us. As we waited in excited, but slightly nervous, anticipation, the breeze turned into a gale, and the energy in the air intensified. Then it came over the top of the hill – a massive wall of dust!   

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Still mystified, Pilenanka took refuge in the car and watched in fascination at the advancing wall, perplexed at my lack of concern and unwillingness to heed his advice to get in the car and lock the doors! I waited until the very last moment before leaping into the car, just seconds before the sky turned a rusty brown as we were engulfed by the mighty dust cloud, followed by the first rain in many, many months.

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The storm passed over the hill reasonably quickly, ravaging the lands beyond in the direction of Stephanie and Leela in Eselenkei! We were lucky to be rescued by two Ol Donyo Wuas Lodge guides (thanks Edwin and Jackson!) and Lion Guardian Mokoi whom had fortunately been not so far away in Mbirikani town. Not wanting to risk further engine starting problems we headed back to camp – our detective work put on hold for another day!

A stubborn girl in her teens!

The second lioness to be collared in Eselenkei Group Ranch was Selenkay. Selenkei is a Maasai name for a ‘stubborn girl in her teens’. During her collaring, Selenkay captivated our Lion Guardian team with her beauty, and calm and peaceful nature.

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Considered a member of the Tara pride, Selenkay seems the most adventurous member of this pride and has completely baffled our team with her movement patterns. She frequents Amboseli National Park as well as spending a majority of time on the border of three Group Ranches (Eselenkei, Olgulului and Mbirikani).

Her most distinctive feature is the dark brown coloration in her right eye, as well as the distinct darker color and spots which marks many members of the Tara pride. Here you can see the dark patch in her right eye. We don’t think there are any signs that she is blind in this eye.

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She who comes first…

Nasieku is the beautiful yellowish female lioness of the Tara pride, with broad shoulders. She is definitely the most aggressive member of the pride. She was named Nasieku, a Maasai name meaning “She who comes first”, because of the frequency in which she charges at our Lion Guardians!

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With a beautiful spotted pattern which is the trade mark of this pride, Nasieku has three striking cubs who are about 7-8 months of age – 2 males and 1 female. Here she is, looking aggressive with her cubs, as usual!

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A stunning male lion

The most beautiful, admirable and valuable member of the Tara pride is unmistakable - an iconic male African lion with a thick ruff of yellow long hair around his face and neck with masses of black hair covering his chest and back. He is the most secretive, elusive and shrewdest lion to ever live in Eselenkei Group Ranch. In fact, stories abound about the amount of luck that this lion has enjoyed over the last few years. This luck is still shrouded in mystery.

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Named Lomunyak (a Maasai name for ‘he who is lucky’) by our Lion Guardian team, he has escaped no less than three Maasai warriors’ lion hunting parties in the past. Being a symbol of power, courage and nobility, Lomunyak seemingly enjoys patrolling his territory and protecting the Tara pride while assisting Nosieki on her frequent hunting attempts to ensure a permanent flow of kills for the pride members to feed on. It’s therefore no wonder that members of this pride are extremely healthy.

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Anyone coming close to this pride is guaranteed to be magnetically drawn towards Lomunyak. He seems to thrive on drawing attention to himself while keeping a safe distance to observe what goes on around the pride. As a threatened species, lions in the greater Amboseli ecosystem, as in the rest of the country, need to be carefully conserved, in order to ensure their long-term survival. Please help us to continue with our research and protection of the lions of the Tara pride by making a donation. Thank you for your support.

Meet female collared lion Nosieki

Nosieki was the first lioness to be collared on Eselenkei Group Ranch. She is a resident lioness in this Group Ranch and several people can attest to her presence in the area over the years as she is very distinct due to her lack of a tail tip, long figure, and many spots.

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Deriving her name from the place she was collared (Osieki – the Maasai name for a bush which has beautiful red berries), Nosieki gave birth to two beautiful cubs in May of this year; a darker colored female cub who loves to chew on trees and harass her father, Lomunyak, and a jovial male cub that has already earned a reputation of being the first to eat from any kill…. signs of a promising future! Here is her little female cub playing in a tree.

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Nosieki is the more composed and peaceful member of the Tara pride as well as being the best hunter.

Introducing Kylie!

Hello! 

My name is Kylie, or Esupat if you prefer my new Maasai name which means ‘the mama with a good heart who helps everybody’ (or possibly in reality, the BIG SUCKER who can’t refuse to help anyone!). I’m the new Living with Lions project biologist on Mbirikani Group Ranch, doing much the same sort of work as Stephanie on Eselenkei and Olgulului but without the stress of having a PhD to complete (although I am hoping to start one soon).      

This photo is of me with Lion Guardians Olubi and Pilenanka, the owner of the cow who was eaten by the lioness and Lion Guardian Mokoi at Narika’s recent collaring.  

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Although new to big cats, I’m no stranger to Africa having spent three years working for the Jane Goodall Institute in Uganda, helping to conserve and protect chimpanzees and their natural habitats. Prior to that I was home in Australia where an environmental and wildlife consultancy firm (Ecoplan Australia) kept me busy with the Australian fauna. Some of the first zoology work I ever did involved radio tracking koalas. Now I find myself using those same skills to track our collared lions. 

Here’s a photo of me radio tracking lions from Ol Donyo Wuas:  

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I have loads of fun working closely with the Lion Guardians who keep me busy with frequent lion reports. Communication is sometimes difficult with my current lack of conversational Swahili but I’m really trying to learn. In the meantime, there are lots of laughs and enough is understood to get the general messages across!   

Here I am radio tracking with Luke and Lion Guardian Kapande:  

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I feel incredibly lucky to be working in one of the most stunning areas of Kenya as part of such a dedicated team, helping to protect and conserve such beautiful animals, which without help, risk local extinction on non-protected lands. I hope Stephanie and I can keep you entertained and updated as we share our adventures and lion stories.