Author Archives: Paula

Naibor – a new lioness

I was driving in the reserve yesterday when I saw some lion tracks which I started to follow. After a while, I turned round a corner still following the tracks, when I saw her. I turned off the car engine and immediately grabbed my binoculars to see which female this was. I knew at once. This was a new female. She was quite wary of me and watched me keenly. I started to draw her whisker spots and photograph her. I aged her at approximately 3 years. But what struck me immediately was how white her face she was! I decided to call her Naibor – meaning white in the Samburu language.

naibor.JPG

I stayed with Naibor for a while to “get to know her”. She eventually moved off into the thick bush on the side of the road. As I watched, I suddenly saw her jump and leap up into the air. She had killed something! I could not tell what it was initially, but she kept leaping up and appeared to be “playing” with her prey. I then realized she had killed a slender tailed mongoose. She continued throwing it around and then finally sat down in the bush and started eating. I could not see her at this stage as the bush was so thick but could hear her eating.

I realized then that her nature reminded me of Nashipai 5 years ago. In 2003, when I first saw Nashipai, she was alone, and was seen playing with a tortoise! I don’t know where the lovely Naibor came from; most likely Kalama Conservancy as the area I found her in was not too far away. I hope I see her again soon.

The Ewaso Nyiro is still flowing and although the landscape is beginning to dry up slowly, pink and white flowers are still everywhere. On the way back to the camp after seeing Naibor, I was fortunate to see some elephants drinking in the river and a very cool white-bellied go-away bird eating some pink flowers!

eles-river.JPG

go-away-bird.JPG

Meanwhile, the search continues for Nashipai.

Many thanks to you all for your comments and interest in the Ewaso Lions. I wanted to answer a few questions I’ve received over the past few days.

Ntito moved out of the reserve with her cubs at a time when it was raining and most of the prey had dispersed. In most cases, the lions come back when it dries up and the prey begin to congregate along the Ewaso Nyiro. However this time, Ntito did not return. There is still water in the hills currently, and the animals are not back yet. However, I anticipate that over the next few weeks, the prey and predators will be back along the Ewaso Nyiro.

Killings camels – I’ve recorded many incidences of lions killing camels outside the reserves. A few lions can easily bring down a camel, and they find it much easier to kill livestock then wild prey.

Due to the small size of the reserves (Samburu and Buffalo Springs are approximately 300km2), fencing would not be a viable option as the animals need to be free to roam within their range, including the elephants who move frequently between Samburu and Laikipia Districts. Other wide-ranging animals such as wild dogs and cheetahs also use the reserves.

A few differences between lions here and lions in for example the Maasai Mara; it is rare to see more than 2 or 3 lions together here. Most of the time, the lions are seen alone or in pairs. I have seen the Koitogor Pride all together on only one occasion during the drought a few years ago. Females, males and cubs were all together, bringing down larger prey like buffalo and giraffe. However, normally one or two females are seen together and their main prey in the area is impala.

Male lions here don’t have very large manes. This male below, Lnchurai, was around a few years ago and he was the main male in the area. Maneless males have been recorded here too. However almost 2 years ago, 2 big maned males migrated to Samburu from the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy (South of Buffalo Springs). This was the first time that we have had such huge lions in the area.

lnchurai.jpg

More information coming soon! Also, there are a few stories from earlier in the year on the project website: http://www.ewasolions.org/diary.php

No sign of Nashipai

Samburu is so green and lush at the moment. It has rained quite a lot here and the reserves have transformed. There is grass everywhere and the shrub Indigofera is covering the area. Elephants are back in their hundreds, full of life and energetic after the lull during the dry season in February and March. Ewaso Nyiro (meaning the Brown River) is flowing and the elephants bathe and splash around in it as if it’s a huge jacuzzi… such fun to watch. This is a real contrast to a few months ago when the river was dry and the earth bare and brown. It is beautiful now, with flowers everywhere.

The photo below shows 2 lionesses chased by some elephants in the dry river bed in March.

dry-river-1.jpg

dry-river-2.jpg

But… with the rains and the new growth, finding lions has become really hard! I have spent the last week or so covering every corner of the reserves and haven’t yet seen a track. Some of the bushes are higher then my car and all I see is green! (I’ve also landed up in many ditches because I cant see the road!) It appears that the lions are on the edges of the reserves with many outside in the community lands. This is common at this time of the year. I have been getting reports that lions have been killing livestock in West Gate and also South of Buffalo Springs; the latest report coming yesterday where a camel was killed.

Just after the rains…

rains.JPG

A green Samburu

buffalo-springs.jpg

Some background to the main pride that I monitor in Samburu. Samburu (covering approx 169 square kilometers) has one main pride called the Koitogor Pride (named after the central hill in the reserve). The numbers of individuals has changed over the years with lions moving out. In 2003, there were 14 in this pride and this grew to 21 in 2005. However since then, many of the older cubs have left and unfortunately we haven’t seen new cubs in the area for a while. I am now trying to get a current estimate for the pride.

I have known Nashipai for 5 years now since she was about 2 years old. She was always seen with her 2 sisters; Nabo (meaning number one) and Ntito (meaning young girl). Over the years, Ntito moved off with her cubs and I haven’t seen her for more than a year. In 2007, Nashipai would always be with Sempei (meaning the fierce one), however sadly Sempei died in October last year after it appeared that she was poisoned. This year, Nashipai has been seen with Nabo and Uni (meaning three), one of the older females in the pride. However, none of the females have been seen since the middle of March.

Nashipai with Nabo

nashipainabo.JPG

Each time it rains and the lions leave the reserves, I always worry that many will not come back as lions are being killed outside. Its always a huge relief to get the first sighting of the main pride members when they start coming back to the reserves after the rains and after it has dried up a bit. Last year I hadn’t seen Nashipai in 6 months and then she turned up in January; it was great to see her. Between January and March, she kept wandering all over the reserves and I would find her in places where I least expected to see her. The river was dry and the lions were crossing between Samburu and Buffalo Springs daily (the Ewaso Nyiro separates the 2 reserves).

So, where is Nashipai now? I do wonder where she has wandered off to this time…

Lions, livelihoods and landscapes – an introduction to an unknown lion population in Northern Kenya.

Hello everyone!

My name is Shivani Bhalla and I am a wildlife biologist working in the Ewaso ecosystem in Northern Kenya. Ewaso Lions is a project based in the Samburu region. I have been working in this area since I moved here from Nairobi in 2003. In 2007, I started the Ewaso Lion Project focusing on the lions in Samburu, Buffalo Springs and Shaba National Reserves and their surrounding areas. I have also recently started working in the West Gate Community Conservancy, West of Samburu. I live in a bush research camp in Samburu National Reserve, but I am also a bit of a nomad and often set up temporary camps in Shaba and West Gate.

The Reserves are spectacular – with the Ewaso Nyiro River forming the heart of the area. The river dries up every year between February and March and again in September and October. Most of the predators lie waiting at the river banks, waiting for prey to come to the dry river bed and drink from the waterholes dug by elephants. After the rains in April and November, the Reserves transform into a lush, green landscape. Lions, cheetahs and leopards are common here, striped hyena are also seen occasionally and elephants are everywhere! Combined with the dramatic scenery, this truly is a stunning place to be.
Kipsing Uaso



Outside the Reserves, Samburu warriors dressed in their red finery, holding spears, walk in the bush, as young herders roam with their livestock and Samburu “manyattas” (homesteads) dot the landscape. The lions in the Ewaso region are in a vulnerable situation because they live in, or adjacent to, these areas which are inhabited by nomadic people. Their predatory behaviour has caused great resentment amongst the increasing rural pastoralist population. Very little is known about the lions in this area. I provided the baseline estimate for the lion population in 2003 for my MSc. However, much has changed over the past few years and I am now revisiting the population. Preliminary findings show a decline in lion numbers in the area. Conflict does occur here especially during the wet seasons when lions move out of the Reserves and kill livestock. Killing livestock is much easier than hunting wild prey, but simple and effective ways can be employed to reduce this loss to predators, and include improving animal husbandry and “boma” design. These are some of the things that I am working on with the local communities. Poisoning of wild animals is now a serious threat to Kenya’s wildlife. This occurs in Northern Kenya as well – one of Samburu’s resident lionesses was poisoned a few months ago. I, along with the rest of the Ewaso Lions Team, am currently gathering more information on this.

So, why is this work important? The Reserves and their buffer zones have been identified as highest priority areas for biodiversity conservation and research, and are critically important areas for lions and their dispersal within the whole Ewaso Nyiro landscape. These areas also have the highest potential for loss as lions are most abundant here. The resident lions are sources for lion populations outside the Reserves and should anything disturb these resident populations, the whole lion population within this part of Northern Kenya will become critically endangered. The major threat to lions here are people, and a study into the interaction between people and lions is essential. With Kenya’s lion numbers down to approximately 2000, and tourists from all over the world travelling to National Reserves such as Samburu to view these beautiful animals, lion conservation is now very much a global issue.

Overall, we are conducting a lion identification study in the Reserves, looking at habitat changes and prey numbers and investigating the human-lion conflict in the area. Cheetah and leopard numbers are also being monitored. We have also started a tree project with the local schools and you will hear more about this in the future. Raphael Lekuraiyo works as the community officer for the project and 3 lion scouts, Jeneria, Francis and Jeremiah monitor lions and prey in the West Gate Community Conservancy.

This photo below is of Nashipai on the banks of the Ewaso Nyiro river. Nashipai, whose name means ‘beautiful, happy one’ in the Samburu language, resides mainly in Samburu National Reserve. However, over the past few months, she has become a bit of a wanderer. Personally, I think she is the most beautiful lioness in the area. In the months to come, you will get to know more about her and the rest of her pride members including the elusive maneless male of Samburu.

Nashipai



Anyway, I have probably gone on for too long but I wanted to give you an idea of what to expect from the Ewaso Lions Team in the future. You will hear from myself, the scouts in the community areas and also get news on any conflict that may occur in the communities from Raphael. I am really excited that we are able to write about the lions and all the other news from this area, and I do hope you will enjoy reading this blog.

So please do join the Ewaso Lions Team on this journey of discovery as we reveal the secrets of the yet unknown Ewaso Lions in this stunning, semi-arid part of Kenya. Through this blog we hope we can give you a feel for the lions, livelihoods and landscapes that make up this exciting and vibrant ecosystem.

Karibu sana! (Welcome!)

Shivani

Project Leader