Research Article: lions can live with people with the help of community conservancies

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Posted by Sara Blackburn at 3:39 PM

We've now published some important research from our long-term lion study in the Mara Conservancies.

Our new study in the Journal of Applied Ecology, conducted together with The University Of Glasgow, found that the community conservancies of the Mara ecosystem play a vital role in the survival of lions. This is great news for lion conservation - with widespread declines outside of small, fenced areas, we have shown that free-ranging lions have a future without fences.

Conservancy membership provides households with financial benefits from wildlife tourism and engenders an attitude of coexistence with wildlife. The net effect is that people become more tolerant of lions because they attract tourists and bring an alternative source of income to landowners.

Sara Blackburn, lead author on the paper said: “The most important finding in this study is that community conservancies are a viable way to protect wildlife and pose an alternative solution to building fences. If we are concerned about the population of lions, we need to let the people who actually live with the lions benefit from their existence.”

Hope for lions: community conservancies increase lion survival, indicating a future without fences

The study illustrates that community conservancies are a good strategy for the future protection of lion populations and provides a practical solution to the problem, especially in areas where the expense of fencing is not a realistic option.

Our research is hitting the news and a comprehensive summary can be found here.

An online version of the paper can be accessed here.

Asante sana!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Posted by Sara Blackburn at 2:30 PM

Important Anouncement: The Mara Predator Project has now completed field activities and our researchers are now in the process of analysing our data. The project was instigated and developed to provide conservation-based research on one of East Africa's most important lion populations and we are now able to provide evidence-based advice regarding on successfully maintaining viable lion populations in the region. 
We would like to thank all of those who participated in the research including all of the lodges, managers and guides who made this work possible. We would also like to express our gratitude to our funders and supporters. 
This website will stay active to retain the historical information of our study lions. If you saw lions within our study area from 2008-2013, and possibly dates either side of this period, we still welcome you to browse our profiles and identify you lion. 

Keep Up To Date

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Posted by Sara Blackburn at 4:43 PM

Apologies to all who have enjoyed reading our blog, but have been without a new post for some time!

We're making some changes to the site and putting our blog on hold for the time being, but we don't intend to leave you in the dark. For all news on the Mara Predator Project, you can follow us on Facebook. If you don't have a Facebook account, we're adding a feed onto our main site so that you can see the latest updates.

Whether you follow us in the field or on Facebook, we hope you'll continue to enjoy reading about our lions until we get our blog up and running again.


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!


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.