Category Archives: Meet the team

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.

Introducing research assistant Luke

Luke Keloi is our other new research assistant on Eselenkei, working with Leela Hazzah investigating lion killing and local attitudes towards predators for her PhD. Luke worked as a community teacher in various schools before pursuing a diploma course and has also undertaken refresher courses in wildlife management and environmental studies.

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Luke has carried out fieldwork before – working with the International Livestock Research Institute, as well as working in various places across Kenya including Tsavo West, Naivasha, Nairobi, Nanyuki and Samburu. Luke has great communication skills and a real interest in people and their histories; essential skills for the research undertaken by Leela.

Initially Luke comes off as quite serious; he can sit for hours and discuss many issues. But then his face will break into a huge smile which makes all around him smile too. He is the first to give his seat to others or share his food with another. A very giving and honest person, Luke is an immense asset to our team.

Meet wildlife expert Lenkai

Lenkai Nkiinti is one of our new research assistants on Eselenkei Group Ranch. He is working with Stephanie to understand the behavior of lions and hyenas on the group ranches and their conflict with people for her PhD and the Living with Lions research.

Lenkai symbolizes a typical Maasai moran (warrior) with immense tracking skills and great knowledge of the area. In fact, he knows the terrain of Eselenkei Group Ranch like the back of his hand! His traditional wildlife knowledge is proving to be very important to the rest of the Lion Guardian team – young members are learning a lot from his invaluable experience. When he came to work with us in May of this year, he did not know Swahili or English, but he was so excited to have an opportunity at a job which would allow him to follow the wildlife he loves in an area he knows so well, he set to work to learn enough to be able to communicate with the rest of the team. Now him and Stephanie are able to spend long days in the bush chatting away in Swahili…… he’s a very fast learner!

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Not only is Lenkai fantastic at tracking wildlife, he knows all about the songs and sounds of wildlife. Often when he goes to the bush to track lions, he returns with snake skins, feathers of birds (of which he mimics their sounds), spines of a hedgehog, or something interesting that he came across.

Around camp Lenkai is always singing. You always know when Lenkai is around because you can hear him singing from all the way across camp. Maasai say this is a sign that a person has a light heart…. no heavy load weighs upon them.

We are pleased and proud to have Lenkai as part of our team, his contribution to our carnivore research is invaluable.

Introducing Stephanie!

Hello everyone!

This is Stephanie (or Naasha as I am called in Maasai meaning ‘rain’). I am a project biologist for Living with Lions, currently working and living in Eselenkei Group Ranch, covering this area as well as Olgulului Group Ranch. Previously I was living and working in Mbirikani Group Ranch but since early 2009 when we expanded the Lion Guardians project to Eselenkei we built a new camp and I moved over here permanently.  

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Before working in Mbirikani, I worked up north at our Laikipia project site so I’ve covered a lot of ground in the areas where Living with Lions operates. People who visit us frequently ask “how did you get this job?” Well, it is a long story but in brief I have a Bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Conservation Biology and I’ve worked in many places focusing on human impact on wildlife populations namely birds & carnivores (yes, I am a birder)!

I’ve worked primarily in N. America such as in Missouri, Washington, Arizona, New Mexico and California national parks and protected areas, as well as Hawaii (Big Island) and the Bahamas (Eleuthera Is.). This photo is of myself in Laikipia with Steven Ekwanga, Lion Guardian Olubi, and a lioness that was having her collar changed.

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In 2005 I met the director of Living with Lions Dr. Laurence Frank, and he invited me out to volunteer for the project. I fell in love with spotted hyenas and now, almost 5 years later, I am still with the Living with Lions project, now as a project biologist and I am working on my PhD studying lion and hyena behaviors and movements around Maasai homesteads and communities. Here I am with my assistant Lenkai, collecting some goats that we found lost in the bush, and taking them back to their owner so that they would not get attacked by carnivores during the night.

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I love my job as it is quite diverse and exciting. I spend most of my days out with the Lion Guardians following up on fresh lion tracks or responding to livestock owners’ reports of lions or hyenas killing their livestock. My favorite times are the long hours spent in the field (or bush as we call it here) with the Guardians and my assistant Lenkai. Most of these guys have never been to school a day in their lives. We are teaching them to read and write while they are teaching us all about the lions and hyenas they share their land and livestock with. I have learned so much about the wildlife from these murrans (Maasai word for warrior) and we have shared many a laugh together. This photo is of myself and Lion Guardian Kamunu. We are using his GPS to mark a zebra killed by lions that he found nearby.

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I try to use technology (such as cameras, video recordings, sound recordings, etc.) to ‘capture’ the lions we see and bring the visual and audio ‘captures’ back to the Guardians and the people who live around us. We are always stopping and chatting with many of our Maasai neighbors, getting news from them as well as sharing the news of the lions with them (who has cubs, who’s mating, which areas the lions are in now, & what they’ve been eating recently). 

For my job and research I am out with the Guardians using radio telemetry to track collared lions as well as collecting lion scat (poop) and hairs for DNA analysis, and getting photographs of the individual lions we are able to find for the photo database we are compiling. In this photo I am collecting lion hair for DNA analysis.

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On this blog I, along with my colleague Kylie from Mbirikani Group Ranch, will share our adventures of following the lions of the Amboseli ecosystem, together with the Lion Guardians. We hope you’ll stay tuned!