Category Archives: lion-research

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.

 nimaoi-and-cubs.JPG

 nimaoi_2010_jan_07-037-copy.JPG 

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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!):

Lg female_ear

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