Fingers Crossed for the New Arrivals!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Posted by Sara Blackburn at 4:43 PM

It’s been a while since the Cheli and Peacock Pride – Nura, Lilly and Siti – raised cubs successfully to adulthood. Although Shambe, Ajani and Samir’s takeover meant that Nura and Lilly’s last cubs were killed, it’s not all bad news. Since mating with the Cheli girls, these boys have hung around, and I’m please to announce that at least two lionesses have now had their babies.
Nurafamily Nura’s last cubs sadly didn’t make it… nor did those of Lilly and Siti

There are now two litters of two and four, hidden in croton bushes. We’ve had some lucky glimpses, and have seen Nura move her cubs due to the recent heavy rains.
Nura carries her babies to a safer place

Their five daughters, including Amber, Maskio and Saba, have all recently been mating with the trio of males who have attached themselves to the pride, which means that they have now reached maturity at around 2 1/2 years of age. These young girls are all very inexperienced, and unfortunately it’s not too common for young mothers to raise large litters, if any cubs at all. However, these lionesses always stick together, and may even gain the support of their mothers.
ajani and amber Ajani and Amber, one of the Cheli and Peacock 'seven'

After toppling Caesar from his pedestal, let’s hope that these three boys can do a better job of protecting their cubs.

The Playful Pride

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Posted by Sara Blackburn at 2:23 PM

The Olare Orok Conservancy has two main prides – the Moniko Pride, who reside near Moniko hill, named after a young man who was killed while spearing a lion – and the Enkoyonai Pride. This morning I found the Enkoyonai Pride in a particularly playful mood, mums and cubs alike!

sunrise One of the Enkoyonai lionesses in the early morning light
The pride had a made a wildebeest kill – not surprising given the huge herds gathering along the N’tiakitiak River. With thousands of wildebeest now residing in the area, the lions have an easy time.

The fact that their bellies were already full of wildebeest didn’t stop three girls of the pride trying to take on a rather large bachelor buffalo who came over for a closer look. Lions are certainly capable of taking down these enormous animals, but this one was more than these three full-bellied lionesses could tackle.

buffalochase1 One of the girls takes on the chase…
buffalochase …but this big bull’s having nothing of it!
The girls have a healthy number of cubs between them, aged around 9 months. They were all very happy to munch on the kill, until one of the lionesses caught a baby gazelle. The fawn wasn’t eaten, but provided an essential lesson for the cubs, who took it in turns to practice their predatory techniques.

cubtommy Not even a mouthful for this young cub, but an important lesson in survival
One cub stood out amongst the rest. At around 4-5 months old, the little cub has no siblings his own age, but plenty of older brothers and sisters around for entertainment. I’ve never seen such a playful cub – he was a joy to watch trying out his moves on the wildebeest carcass and tackling his mum and aunties at any opportunity.

cubs This little one’s not taking trouble from anyone!

I’m impressed to see such a healthy, strong pride in the Olare Orok, and look forward to spending more time with them. Along with the Moniko and Ridge Prides, there’s plenty of lions to keep me busy.


Simba mingi in the OOC

Monday, July 19, 2010

Posted by Sara Blackburn at 11:23 AM

This month I’ve been generously offered a base at Mara Plains camp in the Olare Orok Conservancy for a fortnight. Bordering both the Mara North Conservancy and the Masai Mara National Reserve, the OOC is a beautiful area full of long grass, twisting luggas and rolling hills m, and is full of lions. It’s a hugely important region for conservation – lions and other large carnivores don’t adhere to political boundaries, and there is a constant movement of predators across the conservancies.

There are three camps in the Olare Orok Conservancy – Mara Plains, Porini Lion Camp, and Kicheche Bush. I’m hoping to get all three camps involved in lion monitoring – it’s an exciting time for the project and myself, and there’s certainly no shortage of simbas!

OOC1There’s plenty of cubs in the OOC – a good sign that this population is thriving 

Shivani Bhalla, from the Ewaso Lion Project, has already been to Porini Camp to engage the guides in lion monitoring. Together with the guides she managed to identify some 50 individuals in the conservancy, which covers approximately 23,000 acres. Shivani does fantastic work in Samburu, working hard to save lions throughout the region. Please check out her work at

OOC2An OOC lioness watches the wildebeest flood in 

It’s going to be an interesting and action packed few weeks – it’s common knowledge that the two main prides – the Motorogi Pride and the Engoyonai Pride – are at war. It will be very interesting to find out just how many of the previously identified individuals remain in the area, and which pride comes out as the top cats. With the migration well under way and gazillions of gnu pouring in, there’s already plenty of activity on the plains.

A big thank you goes to the Richard and the staff at Mara Plains for the opportunity to work within the OOC. Watch this space for some new lion faces and exciting stories!


Charm’s New Arrivals

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Posted by Sara Blackburn at 3:35 PM

For some weeks now, Charm’s been looking very full. And I don’t think it’s all down to her sharp eyes and teeth! For about a week, Charm has distanced herself from the rest of the pride, and has been hunting and resting alone. Yesterday we found out why!
fatgrace I think it’s more than just warthog in there…

Yesterday I found Charm hidden deep in Maternity Lugga. She had with her some tiny cubs, probably no more than a week old. Although I didn’t manage to count them, it is thought that she has three cubs – this is actually the typical number for lionesses.
charm Charm’s the last of the Three Graces to raise cubs this year

With an impressive pride of mature, feisty lionesses behind her, Charm’s bound to do well raising her cubs. Already there are six cubs with White Eye, Bibi and the other Graces, plus Hasani and Matajo, Joy’s two teenage boys.
sienacub2 This little cub will soon have even more siblings to play with!

Charm will keep her cubs hidden until they are old enough to follow her around comfortably. New mums are very secretive, and she will only spend fleeting moments with her sisters. If the pride move back to their home, Musiara Marsh, she may be forced to move the cubs. It’s also up to Clawed and Romeo to protect the pride from any other males, as a turnover would be disastrous for the new cubs.
It looks like the Marsh Pride will be back to full strength soon – Joy has also been mating with a number of males in the area, and so Charm’s new cubs won’t be the youngest for long!

Cat Fight

Monday, May 24, 2010

Posted by Sara Blackburn at 8:16 PM

It’s no secret that many of the savannah’s predators don’t get on. Whether it’s through competition for food or as a threat to their young, lion, leopard, cheetah and hyena will do their best to avoid each other or drive the opposition away, depending on the pecking order.

Even though they generally occupy different habitats and specialize on different prey, lion and cheetah definitely don’t mix. On a hunt for lion, I came across three cheetah brothers who sometimes visit the MNC. These boys – Honey’s sons – are spectacular; they’re fit and healthy, probably owing to the fact that they hunt cooperatively. Looks like they’re learning a lesson or two from our social cats!

cheetahspray The three cheetah mark their territory – they have a huge range

The cheetah suddenly became nervous, and I could soon see why. In the distance loomed two big male lions – a serious threat to the three sleek, thin-framed cats. Even though they’re the fastest animal on land, cheetah can still be outwitted by lion over longer distances.

cheetah Time to make a run for it!

The boys made a run for it, with the two males hot on their trail. I identified them as Samir and Shambe – two of the three boys who have been mating with Lilly, Sita and Nura from the Cheli Peacock pride. The males looked thin, and certainly weren’t going to tolerate the competition.

Shambe chases the cheetah 

No sooner had the cheetah scarpered, then a strange lioness appeared. She approached with caution, but was greeted warmly by the pair. I identified her as Joy, one of the three Graces. Not only then are the Marsh Pride out and about in the MNC, but their sisters, the Three Graces, are paying a visit, too.

joygreet Joy approaches cautiously

Joy still has two adolescent cubs, and isn’t ready to have another litter yet. But who knows if one of these boys will be the father of her next cubs? With Siena babysitting, the rest of the pride are still around the area. I’m off to go find them and see what else they get up to.


Introducing the New Website!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Posted by Sara Blackburn at 4:42 PM

The beauty of the Mara Predator Project is that anyone who visits the Mara North Conservancy, surrounding conservancies and the northern reaches of the Masai Mara can take part and help us to monitor lions. This is because we use non-invasive methods to identify and track lions, which are simple and easy to use.

me with marsh lion small
When a lion is found, it is identified. We don’t need to use collars to track our lions.
We’ve redesigned our website to make it easy for everyone to take part in monitoring lions. Guides and visitors to the area help to track lions by photographing them, and trying to identify which one they’ve seen. The new website makes this a lot easier, by narrowing down potential lions by their gender, age, location and distinguishing features such as mane size and nose colour. The correct lion can then be picked out by studying the whisker spots and ear tears.

screenshot copy

You can search for your lion using key identifying features

The new website has tons of information on how to identify and age lions, and how to take part in the project. One cool feature is that each lion has its own sightings page, allowing anyone to track where the lion was last seen. The new site also has a section for each conservancy and participating lodge.

It’s easy to take part – the online guides show you how

A huge thank-you goes out to the guys at Bespoke Internet, who worked hard to produce a wonderful website and fully functional database – not an easy task. It looks brilliant, too!
Visit the new site at

The Cowardly Lion!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Posted by Sara Blackburn at 3:57 PM

Yesterday I heard that two new males had gotten themselves in a spot of bother. Long story short, one lion had to rescue his brother from a very angry herd of buffalo!
Becky and Matt, two guests at Serian Camp, saw the event unfold. After finding Nura (Silver), the couple noticed a herd of buffalo surrounding a tree. The herd looked somewhat agitated, and so they went over to have a closer look. What should they find but a young male lion trembling precariously in the branches of a thorny acacia?

bufftree This boy’s in a spot of bother!

It’s certainly no myth that lion and buffalo don’t get on. What was this young lion going to do? Lucky for him, help was on the way. Another male, most probably his brother, distracted the herd by circling upwind and luring the angry buffalo away. He led them on a wild goose chase across the plain, giving his brother enough time to slink timidly out of his prickly perch.

tree Is it safe out there yet?

Buffalo will often kill cubs and young lions, and demand some respect. On the flip side, however, buffalo aren’t always safe – in certain parts of Africa, such as the Okavango Delta, male lions specialise in buffalo.They certainly present themselves as a tasty feast, if a lion can get past those mean horns, that is!
These boys are new to me, so I’ll be working hard to find them over the next few days. Here’s hoping they don’t get themselves in any more trouble!

Thanks to Becky and Matt for the brilliant pictures.

The Marsh Pride’s Family Vacation

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Posted by Sara Blackburn at 4:50 PM

This morning I drove out of camp to be met by a gang of thirteen very special lions. Within the bunch was a number of youngsters, along with some familiar faces.
Just outside of Serian, Chemi-Chemi (the spring) is in the northern reaches of the Mara North Conservancy on the Mara River. It’s certainly some distance from the Musiara Marsh, which is why I was surprised to identify the lions as none other than the infamous Marsh Pride.

How many lions?!

Four adults – Siena and Joy, Bibi and White Eye were lazing in the sun with Romeo and a whole assortment of cubs. Joy's two male cubs, now around 15 months old, and six cubs around 5 months old – four belonging to White Eye and two to Siena – were all happily playing in the long grass and exploring their new environment.

climb The cubs practiced their tree climbing skills amongst the Acacia

The pride have been slowly working their way into the conservancy, and have been spotted on a number of occasions. Although they are far from their home, the territory is open, as many of the River Pride lions are residing on the escarpment. Romeo too has visited the area often to mate with new females.
A lion’s pride territory is not as fixed as you’d think. Although lions spend a lot of time in a core area, prides rangers are large and overlapping. However, two prides will not occupy the same shared territory at the same time, and will advertise their presence to neighbouring prides by roaring.

White Eye the one-eyed lioness. A caring mother but also a fierce hunter

The Marsh Pride is also in a state of flux – with Clawed (Mpengo) seemingly absent, Red no longer with us and the five sub-adults from the females’ last litters, the large family has split into a number of sub-groups. It seems that White Eye and Bibi are forming an alliance with the Three Graces – including Siena and Joy – whilst Lispy remains with the daughters of the pride. Lispy has also been seen flirting with two handsome chaps from the border of the Marsh. Perhaps Romeo and Clawed’s reign is facing an uncertain future?
However the pride forms, here’s hoping that the Marsh females will be as successful at raising this family as they were with the last. They’ve got a lot of experience on their paws!

A Dangerous Duo

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Posted by Sara Blackburn at 7:08 PM

Big males are pouring into the Mara North Conservancy left right and centre. Not only have three young males joined the three Cheli and Peacock lionesses, but there are now two impressive boys on the scene. Seen down Ereyet Angopito – where Kioni is usually found– this pair are on the hunt for their own pride.

One of the males with an impressive dark mane

I’m not sure where these boys have come from, or how long they will spend in the area. They could simply be travelling through, and I’ll have to keep a lookout for them before I know more. Nura, Lilly and Siti are in season and mating with the three younger males – perhaps this pair have come to challenge them? Caesar still hasn’t been seen, and he’d better be careful – one of these males he may be able to handle, but together, these boys pose a real threat to Caesar.

‘Aswad’ means ‘black one’ – his mane is a lot darker than his companion’s.

new male 2Sango’ is Aswad’s companion.

These two have earned the names ‘Aswad'’ – meaning the black one – and ‘Sango’, which means ‘braided hair’ – his mane is slightly matted in places. Sango is probably slightly younger than Aswad, as his nose is still pink and his mane is not as well developed. He’s probably around 5-6 years old. Both of these males have a distinctive left ear, in particular Sango, pictured above.
I’ll let you know if these boys are here to stay. With five new males in the area, who knows what will happen through the rest of the rainy season?

A Turnover?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Posted by Sara Blackburn at 4:48 PM

For the past few months, Caesar has been top dog in the Cheli and Peacock pride. After Siti and Lilly lost their cubs, Caesar mated with them. Together with Silver’s little of four, fathered by Caesar, the pride was set to build rapidly in numbers.
However, upon my return, Caesar is nowhere to be seen. There are thoughts that he may be with Lilly, who is rumoured to have a new litter, but as of yet, we’re in the dark. It’s been over 2 months since the big boy was seen.

lady looksSiti looks out: where’s Lilly and Caesar?

In his place with the Cheli and Peacock pride are three strapping young lads. Around 4 years old, this trio are strong enough to compete with a lone male like Caesar, and they certainly show it. Buffalo and elephant are a firm favourite with these boys – they’re not messing around! It’s typical for young adult males to form coalitions when they’re forced to leave their natal pride – it allows them to co-operate in hunting, steal kills from hyena and other predators, and gives them a major advantage for acquiring their own pride. Whatever the deal is with lions, there’s always strength in numbers. This is what makes lions so successful as the only social cat.

threemales2 threemales1
Two of the three boys: they’re about 4 years old

Unfortunately, Silver’s four tots are nowhere to be seen. Both her and Siti have been with the three males for some time now, and it’s unlikely that they would tolerate young cubs belonging to Caesar. It’s a real shame – all three lionesses have now lost at least one litter each, and with rogue males prowling the conservancy, who knows if their next litters will be safe?
It’s certainly a trying time for these four girls. I hope that whichever males join them stay for long enough for them to successfully raise their cubs to adulthood.

Changing Scenes

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Posted by Sara Blackburn at 5:17 PM

So I’m finally back in the Mara North Conservancy after spending some time in the UK developing a new lion database. Hopefully everyone will find it easy to use, and enjoy it, too. I’ll let you know when it goes live.
Things have changed in the MNC – the rains are here, and everywhere the grass is green and lush, and rather long. It’s a bit of a challenge getting around. There’s a distinct lack of grazers both here and in the reserve, but leopard and hyena numbers are at an all time high. As for the lions, there’s some familiar faces around, most prominently the Cheli sub-adults, who are up to no good as usual…

punch Maskio (meaning ‘ears’) and Amber play rough

No way I’m going to lie on the muddy floor and mess up my fur!

The lion scene is changing, too. Marley’s group has split, interestingly, and the younger cub Mtoro and his pride-mate Maji have joined up with Cheli cubs. Kioni, Marley and the other youngsters haven’t been seen for a while, and there is no clue as to why Mtoro and Maji are now on their own.
It’s highly unusual for unrelated lions to join another group, and I’m still not sure what the true outcome of this pairing will be. Yesterday morning, Mtoro was on the receiving end of a little bullying, but in the afternoon, everyone was snoozing together quite happily. Sebastian and Rescue are already looking impressive, and good on these young lions for doing so well without mum.

Mtoro (right) with Rescue and Sebastian (standing).

In other news, an elephant carcass brought in predators and scavengers far and wide. Together with the drizzle it made for an interesting – if somewhat grisly – photography opportunity. I’m now armed with a video camera, so hopefully there will be some videos coming this way before too long.

willima Poor Mtoro's a little lost. He’s been through two mums already.

Three new males turned up at the scene of the crime, none of whom I recognized. Males of around 4 are usually on their own or in a coalition of other males before they manage to win over their own pride. In a couple of years they should be in their prime. I’ll try and get some photographs of these boys soon.
More soon. It’s good to be back!

Learning About Lions

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Posted by Sara Blackburn at 11:01 PM

I’ve been a bit quiet of late as I’m currently in the UK, working to develop the various media elements of the Mara Predator Project. Whilst this means no fieldwork for a few weeks, hopefully there’ll be a swanky new website packed full of information and cool features. It’ll be a more interactive version of the database at

It’s a good chance to tell you all about some of the community work we’ve been doing along with Serian Camp. Education is a integral factor in promoting mutual coexistence between people and predators, and a key goal of ours is to help people understand the importance of lions to their community.

There’s nothing kids like doing more than getting messy, so we went to a local school to do some art activities on the subject of lions. After talking to the children about the local lions, they each drew their favourite. I have to say I was very impressed with their pictures – many of the children haven’t done art before as it’s not part of their syllabus at school. Together we made a great display for each class.

school1 The children each drew their favourite lions. They all really enjoyed looking
through the photographs and books – most of them have never seen a lion.

All of the children helped to make a giant collaged lions head with bits of yellow card and plastic. They all really enjoyed getting messy making handprints for the mane, and soon we had a great display for the school. The lion puppets went down a treat, too!

school (102) Getting messy!

As well as being great fun, there’s a serious side to the workshops. Hopefully we can encourage the local younger generation to have a positive view of lions, and demonstrate their respect for lions through tolerance and conservation. Essentially, jobs in tourism such as guiding are highly valued, which promotes an understanding and passion for wildlife. Working with these children, as well as lodge guides, will help build positive attitudes towards lions and other predators.

Above is the finished result. Pretty good, eh??