“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up.
It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed.
Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death.
It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle:
when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”
Last week I learned that one of the many lions I saw in the Masai Mara was found dead. Clawed was his name and he was one of the oldest males of the Marsh Pride. The news made me sad, especially because I actually knew this animal by name and had the opportunity to take many pictures of him.
Clawed was already a very old lion for wildlife standards (keep in mind that animals and particularly big cats don’t live as long in the wild as they do in zoos), and according to field accounts he was not able to hunt by himself anymore, a death sentence for these animals.
You are probably asking now, how can I possibly know this particular lion’s name? There must be so many lions in the region and we are not talking about a zoo but an open wildlife region where animals come and go?
Living with Lions is a conservation research group of seven scientists and 34 Maasai warriors working in human-dominated and non-protected areas of Kenya to save the remaining wild lions and other predators that live outside National Parks.
The Mara Predator Project is responsible for monitoring and managing an online database of all lions in the region. The monitored regions are the Mara North Conservancy, the Olare Orok Conservancy, and the Naibosho Conservancy. All three lie along the northern border of the Masai Mara Reserve. They not only collect information from their volunteers but also from visitors that are willing to share their pictures and stories with the group. This information allows them to map the lions’ home ranges, monitor reproduction, and identify long term population trends, which is essential baseline data for all conservation efforts.
So that’s how I found out that Clawed was Clawed and Romeo (his brother) was Romeo. It happens that the Serian, the tented camp where I stayed during my week in Africa, located in The Mara North Conservancy is the headquarters of the Mara Predator Project. The group shares the space with the “charging” room where we leave our electronic devices and batteries to charge, so it is basically impossible to miss.
The walls of the charging room are decorated with posters about the project and pictures of the different lion prides in the region and there are how-to-guides (both in print and online) on how to identify a lion in our pictures. Lions like Clawed and Romeo who are old and have a lot of marks and scars are actually quite easy to identify. I do have to confess though that I have a hard time identifying the females in my pictures and that’s probably because I did not know about these clues when I took most of the pictures. This is a very important takeaway because if you happen to be in the region, and want to help this group you better learn about the identification clues before you take your pictures and not after.
What is the purpose of all this work? The truth is that although I did see many more lions than I expected, lions are critically endangered! Until recently it was believed that there were 100-200,000 lions living in Africa, but current information suggests that the number has dropped dramatically to approximately 30,000.
There are many reasons lions are disappearing but the main one is a conflict with humans. The problem is that even though most of these animals are in protected national parks, with exception of a couple of them, most parks are not large enough to guarantee the long-term survival of viable populations of lions.
The king of the savanna needs very big areas to hunt, and even bigger areas to reproduce and prevent inbreeding. If the area is not large enough lions will wander across park boundaries and into human-dominated areas where conflicts with man are inevitable since it is much easier to hunt sedentary livestock than a running zebra or a wildebeest. Lions and other predators stealing livestock from the tribes are like a declaration of war which more often than not ends up with the offender being killed.
The Mara Predator Project is just one part of the Living With Lions project which also conducts ecological and behavioral research by monitoring lion movements, and the effect of human activities on them. This information helps them develop biologically sound strategies for the management and conservation of lions.
Let me leave you with an excerpt of a post on Clawed written by Jonathan and Angela Scott, award-winning wildlife photographers who are also involved with the BBC hit series Big Cat Diary, where Jonathan is one of the presenters.
“We felt very sad that Clawed ended up in this way (killed by herdsmen protecting their livestock) even though it was inevitable that he would almost certainly die a violent death…… I am sure that Clawed would not expect any different – he lived his life with an honesty that has always impressed me about lions (and not just them among the wild creatures) – they do what they do and move on…The threat of violence is an integral part of lion society – as is the exercise of it. But Clawed like Notch was exceptionally lucky to have lived so long…..” to read the whole story visit Jonathan and Angela Scott’s Blog and read the post titled Marsh Pride “Heroes”: Notch and Clawed
If you want to see more pictures of the Marsh and River Prides, please go to Some of the Lions of the Marsh and River Prides