Losing Lispy

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Posted by Sara Blackburn at 12:15 PM

After some more investigation around the Musiara Marsh, I can sadly confirm that Lispy is no longer alive. It has been difficult tracking down all the member of the Marsh Pride, including all the youngsters, but all are now accounted for except Lispy.

On a training session with the guides from Serian Camp, I found Joy from the Three Graces eyeing a herd of impala within the Mara River treeline. She looked thin, and had better step up her hunting – she now has four three-month old cubs to look after, discovered by Nicholas Ratia, our reporting guide from Karen Blixen Camp. With the Marsh Pride clocking up over 20 lions in total – including many boisterous male teenagers – It’s no wonder she’s keeping her little ones at a distance. Matajo and Hasani, her older cubs, are now spending more and more time on their own, but have been welcomed by the main group. They’re certainly too young to be looking after themselves.

joy new cubs
Joy with two of her little ones – thanks to Nicholas for a great picture!

Next, we found the majority of the pride resting near the Musiara Marsh Windmill. We counted 15 lions in total – including Clawed and Romeo, the pride males. Clawed is really showing his age, and I don’t know how long this pair can hold their pride. I identified Charm, resting with her three large cubs, one intent on annoying Romeo, who wasn’t best pleased with his play-mate.

This cub had better watch out!

Siena, the third of the Three Graces, was sleeping within the group. Once a clear splinter group, it certainly appears that the trio have been formally accepter back in to the main pride. This is probably somewhat down to the loss of Red earlier last year, and now Lispy – with a large number of demanding cubs and youngsters, there are many mouths to feed. Certainly, many of the pride appeared rather thin.

White Eye and Bibi, the two remaining original Marsh Pride females, were the last adults to be identified by the Serian Camp guides. Jonathan Koikai quickly pointed out the unmistakable female with her missing eye.

White Eye (left), Charm (centre) and Siena (right) are now the pride leaders, together with Bibi (below)
bibi sitting

Finally, we tracked down the young females that are Bibi, Lispy, Red and White-Eye’s older cubs. Still youngsters, the four girls were playing with two tortoises that they had found. Although lions can eat everything from mice to elephants, these hard cased critters proved too much for these inexperienced lionesses!

You might want to remove the outer packaging!

So it is now clear that we’ve lost Lispy. As a core female in the Marsh Pride for many years, it is certainly a loss. However, at the ripe age of 13, Lispy has been a successful mother for a decade, and has left behind some formidable descendants. With the reunion of the main pride and the Three Graces, I have little doubt that the Marsh Pride will continue to thrive as the best loved lions of the Masai Mara.

Lispy looks out over her territory of the Musiara Marsh


Lions of the Olare Orok

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Posted by Sara Blackburn at 9:23 PM

This week I’ve been spending time in the Olare Orok Conservancy (OOC). Lying along the southern border of the Mara North Conservancy and contiguous wit the Masai Mara National Reserve, the OOC is packed full of lions, despite its relatively small size. This month, Mara Plains and Kicheche Bush Camp have welcomed me to the conservancy to see how many lions I can find.

The week started well with a gaggle of young lions – nine of them dozing alongside a small lugga. One handsome young male stood out, together with a smart young female. The group was a real mixed bunch, with large cubs, sub-adults and one older lioness that was babysitting the crowd. We identified them as part of the Ngoyonai Pride who currently have a real stronghold within the conservancy.

OOC 191 copy
Our first find: the Ngoyonai Pride
The following evening, we ventured further north, happening upon yet more Ngoyonai members. A pair of smart lionesses were watching impala nearby a mating pair. The male was one of the pride’s pair who had overthrown the old boys the reign in the OOC, and this ruffian had all the battle scars to show for it. As darkness fell, the couple bellowed across the plains. Roaring is a lion’s way of locating other pride members, and also warning other lions in the area that they’re around.

Ensuring his genes are passed on is top priority for pride males

On day three, I found the other Ngoyonai male, also with his progeny on the agenda. This fellow was resting near the road, but he wasn’t alone. Rounding the bend of a heavily vegetated stream, I was met by a proud mother and her three young cubs. Timid but adventurous, the trio played around (and on!) their patient mother.

ngoyonai male
You can see why this smart male rules the roost alongside his brother
Mum’s the word
It’s certainly clear that the OOC is a real playground for lions. The Ngoyonai Pride are certainly on top form, with two strong males, plenty of breeding females and a whole host of youngsters, young and old. However, it’s not always been this way – just a few months ago, the Monico Pride reigned supreme. But with not a single Monico member in sight, it’s clear that things have been turned upside down in the OOC lion world.

Keep posted for more introductions to OOC pride members, and a look into why the Ngoyonais have gotten one up on the Monicos.


Clash of the Titans

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Posted by Sara Blackburn at 7:22 PM

Over the past few months, the male lions of the Mara North Conservancy have been causing chaos in the resident prides.

The culprits are the two gangs of young males – the River Pride males to the North, and the recent rulers, the Cheli and Peacock males, to the south. Originally from Lemek Conservancy, these three impressive lions came out of the blue to assert their dominance over the largest group of breeding females in the conservancy – the Cheli and Peacock Pride. Joshua, Jamal and Akiki overthrew Ajani, Samir and Shambe late lasdt year, but with little between the two trios, and less than a kilometre of no-man’s land between their territories, there’s been a fair number of scraps.

A few nights ago I found the River males at the end of the Cheli and Peacock lugga, deep into Joshua and co.’s territory. They were definitely looking for trouble.

Shambe and Samir

The next morning I went on the hunt for lions. First I found Shambe, idling alongside the main road. At first glance, it didn’t look like anyone else was around, but the zebra soon alerted me to more predators. it was Samir and Ajani, but they weren’t with their brother – they were striding into the Cheli and Peacock males’ territory, and with a purpose.

Roaring as they went and clearly looking for trouble, I drove ahead to see what the deal was. I quickly found Jamal a few hundred metres of the pair. He seemed to be on the run – ahead of him was Joshua, his brother.

Jamal has someone on his tail…
The pair picked up the pace, but suddenly hesitated. The tables had obviously turned, as ahead of his brothers, Akiki ran into the picture. Swinging round to follow, Jamal and Joshua followed suit and turned on the River Males – without Shambe in support, they were down 2 to 3. It was the Cheli and Peacock Males’ turn to bellow now, and defend their territory and females.

Akiki and Joshua pursue the pair…
…roaring as they go. You rarely see a male lion move this fast!
The males quickly scent marked by scuffing urine into the ground – a clear sign to the River males that this territory is taken
It soon became obvious why the trios were tussling. Further down the valley, Siti was watching her males descend. They picked up the pace when they saw her, and followed her into the bushes. I knew that one of the girls had a new litter – could it be Siti?

Siti checks that the approaching males are friendly

Siti was cautious, and for good reason – if the Cheli and Peacock males had let the River Males near Siti, her cubs would have been in grave danger. Having lost her previous two litters to male infanticide, Siti desperately needs these three boys to defend her offspring against intruders.

With her older offspring showing signs of pregnancy, and her sisters Nura and Lilly probably expecting, now could be the turning point of the pride. Can Joshua, Jamal and Akiki watch their girls and help the pride grow? Let’s hope so. But with the River Pride males within throwing distance and on the prowl for new females, they’re not out of the woods yet…


Still Searching

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Posted by Sara Blackburn at 3:50 PM

It’s been a while since we heard news of the dead lioness within the Marsh Pride, and I’ve been trying to work out her identity. I visited the pride to find out who is still around, and I know many of you are anxious to know who still remains in the pride.

Early yesterday morning, snorting zebra and wildebeest revealed the location of the lions strolling across the plains by the Musiara Airstrip. I counted eleven lions in total – several females and a gaggle of cubs of varying ages.

The Marsh Pride
I started to identify individual lions as they crossed the Bila Shaka lugga to lay up. First I saw Bibi, one of the oldest lionesses. she has the end of her tail missing, whilst years of thickets and cat fights have left her with characteristically tattered ears. She was busy hassling a group of buffalos alongside her sons and nephews.

Bibi winds up the locals
Next to appear was Charm, with her characteristically straight nose, varying from the typical ‘M’ shape at the top of the fleshy part.

Charm led the pride towards trouble
She had led the pride to bigger game in the form of a herd of elephants, who weren’t best pleased with their new playmates. Chaos quickly ensued, with one grumpy teenager chasing the adolescent lions out of the picture. Even the buffalos joined in the chase!

marsh ele
Someone’s not welcome…
marsh ele chase
Even 11 lions are no match for an angry elephant!
The action over, it was time to find the rest of the pride. Only Bibi and Charm were accounted for. Soon I tracked down White Eye, who was resting with Romeo. There was tension between the couple, and it looked like they were about to mate. Even though White Eye is well over 12 years of age, she’s still a key breeding female in the group. The strength of the pride means that each female is supported with food and help with her litters.

white eye
White Eye is still within the core of the pride
Finally, I tracked down Clawed, with his tied, scruffy mane peeking out from behind the thickets. Resting with him was an unknown female. With only some spotting of the nose to identify her, I ruled out that it was Lispy – as an older female, her nose is almost completely black. It also wasn’t Joy – there was no cut in the left side of the nose, no heavy tail tuft, and her coat wasn’t characteristically light. Could it be Siena? Possibly although I couldn’t see her tell-tale floppy ear. I just couldn’t tell.

clawed female
Clawed’s mystery female
So it appears that the missing female is either Lispy or Joy, or possibly Siena. I’ll certainly have to do more investigating. Hopefully I can enlist the help of neighbouring camps to search out the missing lionesses.

Even if Lispy is dead, she has made a huge contribution to the Marsh Pride. Ousted on several occasions, she hung in to finally be reaccepted into the pride. As an old female, she has raised numerous healthy cubs and protected the pride from takeovers.

I’ll let you know if I find out more – the search isn’t over!


White Eye’s Fate and a Warm Welcome

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Posted by Sara Blackburn at 7:32 PM

It has been a long time since the last post, and I must apologise for the long silence! I am now back in the Mara North Conservancy and resuming monitoring of the local lion population. Already I have seen some old faces, and some new ones!

There is a lot of news to be shared. Some of you may be concerned that White Eye was dead, but I believe that she was seen yesterday with Romeo around the Musiara Marsh. This is fantastic news, as she plays an essential role in the pride, and is still producing healthy cubs. We still do not know who the dead lion was, found in the Marsh, and I suspect that it was a female from the Marsh Pride. It is important now to track down Lispy and Siena – Joy and Charm I believe have been seen healthy and happy. I’ll post news if and when I hear it.

In the conservancy, the Cheli & Peacock Pride are Rver Prides are doing well, each with their new males. The three brothers, Ajani – Shambe and Samir – have been pushed across to the River Pride territory, and have been spending time on both sides of the Mara River. Last night I found Ajani and Shambe striding across the plain in the darkness – a nice surprise!

night roar
Ajani and Shambe appeared in the darkness
Just before my encounter with the two brothers, I found members of the Cheli & Peacock Pride on the ridge below the camp. Amber and Saba were resting with Akiki (one of the three brothers who now reside with the pride) and their mother, Nura. A bout of roaring soon alerted us to more pride members over the next hill, and the quartet moved off at a fast pace towards the incoming bellows.

Nura leads the rest of the group to the distant roars

There’s a lot of exploring to do to find our resident lions, so I’ll keep you posted with the developments. It’s good to be back in the Mara!