Tag Archives: DNA

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