More New Arrivals!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Posted by Sara Blackburn at 10:07 PM

I’ve been twittering on about the expectation of new cubs from both Lilly and Silver, and it brings me great pleasure to announce the arrival of six new little ones!

Silver has had four cubs, whilst Lilly has had two. At this early age, both of the mothers have moved away from their sister and Caesar, and are nursing their babies in thick woodland. At this age, lion cubs are at risk from buffalo, leopard, hyena and even baboons, and mum must have a careful eye. She will leave them in a safe place such as a hidden lugga whilst she hunts.

lady cub Mothers hide their cubs away from the pride and out of harms way

When the cubs reach around three weeks of age, they will be introduced to the pride, and after a couple of months will follow their mothers around. New cubs are a joy to watch, and I hope that these new arrivals will be lucky in life.

Away from the mothers, Caesar and Siti have also been mating for the past few days. This means that their previous paring was not successful. In fact, lions may have to mate up to 1,500 times for a pregnancy to occur!

Both Lilly and Silver are keeping their cubs well under wraps, but I’ll post some photos as soon as I get a sneak peak!


Collaring Laikipia’s Lions

Friday, November 20, 2009

Posted by Sara Blackburn at 1:05 PM

For the past two weeks I’ve been in Laikpia with Living With Lions’ Laikipia Predator Project. I’ve been showing local lodges how to help by identifying lions and recording sightings in a similar way to our Mara project. Since 1997, the Laikipia Predator Project has helped conserve large carnivores by improving livestock practices, studying the behaviour and ecology of predators that live alongside humans, and monitoring their response to conservation action.
Alayne Cotterill and Steven Ekwanga use some funky equipment to study lions in a challenging landscape. Laikipia lions are shy and elusive, and so radio collars are used to follow their movements. Whilst VHF collars allow one to physically track a lion by following a signal, GPS collars are all the rage, allowing for a lion’s movements to be continuously recorded. You can read more about collars here, and follow some of our GPS collared lions in the Chyulu Hills here.
nemesi This lion is wearing a VHF collar, which allows her to be tracked using telemetry
radio tracking Hmm… where are those lions?

Alayne has a collared lion in every group, which allows her to track most of the lions in the vast area of Laikipia. We wanted to change one lion’s collar from a VHF to a GPS collar, a process that involved bating and darting the lion.
Contrary to popular belief, collaring is neither a risk to the lion’s health or a bother to its everyday life. Lethal overdoses are impossible with the specific drugs used, and the lions show no reaction to the collar upon waking. Collars have been widely studied for their influence on animals, and all evidence shows that hunting, socialising and all other behaviours are not affected in any way. In fact, collared lions are less likely to be killed.
alayne collaring Alayne collaring a lion and taking samples for DNA analysis
We found our lion, LF167, with her pride-mate and several sub-adults by using the VHF tracker. In order to change the collar, we needed to dart the lion to put it to sleep. With a cow carcass in tow and a recording of a baby buffalo in distress, we tried to call the lions out into a safe area for darting. It is important that the lion does not go down in thick bush to avoid distress, and unfortunately the lions we playing hard to get! We left the lions at dusk, and by the time we returned the next day, they were long gone.
The information that Alayne gets from her collared lions is vital in studying their movements. Her data is showing that lions avoid communal areas with lots of people, and prefer wild game over livestock.
I’m back in the Mara now and looking forward to catching up with the locals. Silver and Lilly may have had their cubs by now, and so it’s time for a scout!

An Old Face

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Posted by Sara Blackburn at 11:40 PM

Last year, the River Pride contained three core females on the Serian side of the Mara River. Asali, Mandisa and Tailend were three sisters that we saw often, with all three females having litters close to camp. However, since March, no-one has seen these lionesses again. Last seen by Musiara and the Masai Mara Reserve, we lost track of our favourite trio and they fell off the map. Their favourite haunts around Maternity and Serian are now occupied by Sophie and Marley and the boisterous teenagers. Even though Tailend and Mandisa's cubs didn’t survive, Asali still had two healthy cubs.
After seven months of absence, I was beginning to worry about these girls. A few days ago I set out early one morning after getting a call from Dixon and Jonathan, two of our guides, that there were lions on Serian Hill.
Driving out of camp I found some familiar faces close to camp on Mulima Maui (Rocky Hill in Swahili) after tracing up from some spooked animals. Kahawa and one of Kioni's daughters were chilling out in the bushes. Happy with my I.D., I was about to head off when Dixon radioed through that there was a mother and two cubs close by.

tailend&cub Mother and cub in stride

Over the hill, and meters away from the lazy youngsters was Tailend, with two little cubs in tow. I was so glad to see her, and chuffed to see that she had new cubs of about She was munching on a baby Tommy, but looked like she was in a hurry, and after following her at a distance across two luggas and several kilometres, we lost sight of her. She looked very fit and healthy, and my thoughts are that she has been living across the river.

tailendeat Tailend and her two cubs, tucking in!

Mothers usually leave the pride for a number of weeks when they have new cubs, and so Tailend may be alone. However, I am optimistic that she will join up with her sisters soon, and hopefully on this side of the river. I’ve still got to find those girls!

tailendcubThis little one’s about 4-5 months old

I’m off to Laikipia now, but will keep you updated on our Mara lions when I return.