Heather Gurd, Ewaso Lions volunteer, writes in depth about her experience watching lions make a kill!
Observing lions and other predators within community areas, away from the relative protection provided by the National Reserves, is by no means an easy task. Life for a lion is much tougher here and this is typically reflected in their behaviour; they tend to be far more elusive, remaining concealed from sight during daylight hours and making the job of a lion researcher just that bit more difficult. To even see a lion in Westgate Conservancy feels like a huge privilege. To see a lion kill – my first ever kill – well, that’s just something else!!
The day started at 6am in the usual manner with a trip into the Conservation Area in Westgate. The information collected on these patrols helps to build a picture of wildlife numbers and distributions and I have been genuinely amazed by the diversity of species I have encountered during these various drives. This particular morning, however, was not one of those drives. Unusually, not even a Gerenuk had made an appearance and even the Dikdiks were thin on the ground. Not that it mattered, as the scenery itself and an African sunrise is more than enough to put a smile on your face, even at that hour in the morning! Nevertheless, as we set out on the evening drive I wasn’t really expecting to see much. How wrong I was…
We had made a small detour, following the lugga down to the river, and were busy watching some elephants on the opposite bank when Jeneria suddenly popped down from the hatch whispering excitedly “Simba”. At this point there had been no confirmed sighting of Magilani for several weeks and, following the news of her injury, everyone was concerned about both her and her two cubs. So it was some relief to see Sikiria and Ltangenoi a fair way up on the opposite bank, albeit without their mother. We were anxious to get a better view of the young males which meant retracing our route before navigating the dry river bed. We were all holding our breath slightly as Shivani had to manoeuvre poor Gypsy over a series of rivulets, inching into a good vantage point…only for the boys to disappear behind a bush moments later.
Sikiria sitting on the banks of the Ewaso Nyiro River
It was Sikiria who reappeared first. He looked thin and very much in need of a decent meal – fortunate then that dinner decided to walk straight past him in the form of an oblivious female Vervet Monkey. The up-until-that-point –seemingly-lethargic Sikiria now appeared anything-but-lethargic. He launched himself in the direction of the monkey, skidding to a halt at the edge of the bank as the Vervet, now more than aware of her mistake, threw herself into the river and disappeared from view. She remained submerged for what felt like several minutes while Sikiria stared into the murky water looking somewhat perplexed. When the monkey finally emerged there was an intense exchange of eye contact as if neither party was quite convinced what action to take for the best. The commotion must have attracted the attention of Ltangenoi as he ambled into view. It was only when the mother glanced down that I noticed the small baby sat in the river beside her, her focus switched between her offspring and predator and then finally behind her as if she was weighing up her chances – just like the rest of us! Then – in act of attempted altruism (for the optimists amongst you) or abandonment (for the pessimists amongst you) – left the baby and walked cautiously along the river bed. Needless to say, she didn’t get far before Sikiria was hot on her heels.
I imagine that for the audience of any hunt it is likely to be something of an emotional struggle as excitement at the prospect of witnessing a kill is pitted against the empathy for the potential prey. Yet the comments and bouncing up and down left me in little doubt as to where Shivani and Jeneria’s allegiances lay on this occasion and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was on Sikiria’s side too – sorry Mrs. Vervet!
As I tried (and largely failed) to steady my shaky hands, limit my exclamations of “oh my god” (the only words I appear to have been capable of forming) and keep the camera focused on the action, the monkey leapt back up onto the bank and into the direct path of Sikiria. Within seconds it was game over; a tangle of limbs, a few pained screeches and then both lion and monkey careered off the bank and into the river. As Sikiria tried to scramble back up the bank with his prize firmly between his teeth, Ltangenoi , clearly wanting in on the action, sent a shower of sand down onto his brother. Not content with simply hampering Sikiria’s attempts to get out of the river, Ltangenoi decided he quite fancied a morsel of monkey for himself triggering a fight to break out between the normally cooperative pair – this just goes to show how hungry they must have been. Whilst the boys have been capable of hunting by themselves for a while and are about the age where they should be getting ready to leave their mother, they didn’t seem to have been coping that well since Magilani’s injury.
Whilst the monkey may only been a snack-size, my first kill was definitely one to remember and to have had our own private show, without the crowds that descend at the mere mention of a predator sighting in the reserve, made it all the more special. Unfortunately, I fear my excitement is all too evident in the quality and comments on the video clip!!Lions Hunt Monkey in River
I was still shaking when we arrived back in camp – what a day it was… or rather what a trip! I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to spend more time with, learn from and hopefully, in some way, be of assistance to the Ewaso Lions team. Thank-you and keep up the great work guys!