Tag Archives: Lion Guardians

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

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.


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.


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!


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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.


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!


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.  


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!