Category Archives: Research

A Surprise in Westgate’s Conservation Area

Since the rains and floods that took place in November 2011, it was difficult for us to conduct our regular transects and drives in the Core Conservation Area in Westgate Community Conservancy. The area began to dry up slowly and we were able to finally start our drives in early January. For the first few weeks, we struggled to see any animals. Most of the wildlife had dispersed away from the Ewaso Nyiro River into the hills. We literally had a few gerenuk sightings and one leopard sighting; not much else for weeks. We had seen some lion tracks but were unable to find them.

On the 28th of January, we got a report that a lioness had been seen in the Core Area. I got really excited and immediately thought “Magilani!”. Jeneria and I left camp quickly and headed straight into the Core Area. I was excited yet nervous at the same time. We got to the area at 3 pm and immediately spotted the lioness. She was sitting under a tree in some thick bushes. As we approached, she barely flinched and didn’t even look at us. This was not the normal behaviour of a lion in a community area. They are rarely out in the daytime and often at the sight or sound of human presence, they disappear quickly. This female sat there without moving. I looked through my binoculars and realised that this was in fact a young female -and not Magilani. I was disappointed for a few minutes but interested and excited at the same time to figure out who this female was.

DSC_0444Nabulo sits under the tree – our first sighting of the trio

The pieces fell into place quickly. Jeneria and I discovered this female was Nabulo; one of three females from the Koitogor Pride in Samburu National Reserve, who left her mother, Nabo, in 2011. We soon spotted the other two females, the beautiful Sipen and Nanai (Jeneria’s favourite lion!). They had made a waterbuck kill and were resting in the shade near the kill.

We spent the afternoon with these beautiful lionesses and watched them come down to drink, feed on the kill and sit on the beached banks of the Ewaso Nyiro River. It was a special afternoon and our best lion sighting yet in Westgate.

DSC_0478_2Sipen comes to drink

DSC_0521Nanai and Nabulo drink

DSC_0580_2Feeding on their waterbuck kill

Jeneria’s reaction to this sighting was one of concern. He said, “These lions don’t know how to behave in community areas. They don’t know how to hide or to avoid people and danger. They are too calm and in the open. How will they survive here?”. I understood and agreed with his concerns and we decided to make sure the community were aware of their presence and monitor their movements to see if they would go back to Samburu National Reserve or stay in Westgate. This is the first time we have seen Reserve lions in Westgate and are keen to follow up to ensure their safety and monitor their movements.

IMG_0853A beautiful evening with Nabulo, Sipen and Nanai along the Ewaso Nyiro River

New Mother Lionesses Kill a Warthog

Nashipai and Nabo, our two resident lionesses in Samburu National Reserve recently gave birth and we have been monitoring them closely over the past few weeks.  Whilst watching the two females resting along the Ewaso Nyiro River a few days ago, a family of unsuspecting warthogs stumbled across the lionesses.  Nabo quickly caught one of them and whilst suffocating it, Nashipai proceeded to feed on the warthog. The timing was perfect – Nashipai was looking thin and in need of a meal and with young ones to care for, it was important that she fed that day.  The lionesses fed on the warthog for a few hours and went down to the river to drink before resting in a shady area.  Here are the photos of their successful kill.

Nashipai and guinea fowlNashipai resting along the Ewaso Nyiro River

KillA few minutes later, they catch a warthog

Feeding

Nabo and Nashipai

Dragging away

Full NashipaiNashipai, full after her meal, walks down to the river for a drink

Drinking at river

Recent Images On Our Camera Traps

We’ve had great luck over the past few weeks with our camera traps.  Thanks to Afrique Horizons and support from individual donors, we were able to purchase new camera traps to add to our collection.  These camera traps provide us with an insight into the lives of nocturnal creatures that are not easily seen during the day.

Click on this video link for a collection of animal behaviour clips.

And here are some of the best images captured recently:

Predators in Westgate Conservancy

Leopard

Striped hyena

Lions

Endangered species

GZ

wild dogs on trap

Very rare animals! Aardvark and Honey Badger

Aardvark

Honey Badger

Leopard Captured on Camera Trap

Conflict has recently escalated over the past few weeks due to failure of rains and more movement of livestock in search of pasture.  Two stray donkeys were recently killed by hyena in the lugga (sand river) near the Ewaso Lions camp.  We went to visit the scene and as we approached the area, we noticed that part of the donkey was missing.  We walked closer only to find a leopard jump off a tree right in front of us with part of the dead donkey draped over a branch. 

Leopard sightings have been superb in Westgate over the past few weeks and I was very curious to see who this leopard was.  Philip and Jeneria climbed the tree and tied the camera trap at an angle facing the remains of the donkey.  We left the area knowing the leopard would be back.  We were all very excited about what images we would get the following day.  Moses, an Ewaso Lions Scout, collected the camera trap at 6 am the next day. And the images blew us away!  Here they are:

MDGC0362

MDGC0363

MDGC0365

MDGC0369

Camera Traps Success

We’ve been using camera traps in Westgate Community Conservancy in Samburu since February this year and have captured images of rare nocturnal creatures almost every night.   Being a community area, the animals are nervous and don’t come out of the thick bushes until they feel safe at night.   We often only get a glimpse of a hyena’s ears or a lion’s tail.  Camera traps help document the numbers and types of species not accessible during daytime or which are shy around vehicles. Plus, the candid photos of wildlife in the absence of humans may give us insight into some of their natural behaviors. We set up the traps every evening and collect them the following morning.  It is very exciting when we check the traps every morning and see what animals have wandered through the Conservation Area.

DSC_8424

Jeneria setting up the trap

DSC_8466

Checking the photos the following morning

During the first night we put out the traps in February, a hyena came and bit the trap which luckily survived but we were quick to construct some metal cages which the camera trap can sit in without being bothered by hyenas.  It did not stop an elephant from knocking it over however!  Here are some images that we have captured since February.

MDGC0024

I was not able to see this animal, until I looked at it many times. Can you spot it?

MDGC0052

A rare nocturnal animal – do you know what it is?

MDGC0062Here’s the bull elephant who knocked over the trap – photo was taken just before he took a swing at it

MDGC0091

A rare animal in the Conservation Area – signs of the reticulated giraffe

MDGC0029

An African Hare who likes its photo taken – it would come out almost at the same time every night in the same spot and pose in front of the camera.

FILE0018

Thanks to the camera traps, we are able to identify individual hyenas using their spot pattern

MDGC0141

Success with photographing Magilani and her cubs!

We have had great success with the two traps that we have put out. Special thanks to Dale Anderson from Cathaven who helped us purchase these Moultrie and Leafriver traps . We are looking to acquire a further two traps which we can use in the areas where Francis and Jeremiah, the Ewaso Lions Scouts, are working.  Each one costs approx $250.  Any donation made towards this will be most appreciated!

Ewaso Lions Mid-Year Report: News on Lions and Community Projects

Dear friends of Ewaso Lions,

We are pleased to present our Mid-Year Report to provide you with news from Samburu, information on our lion research and conservation activities, and to keep you posted on life in Camp. It’s been one of our most challenging field seasons yet – from severe drought to massive floods to increased threats to lions. The Ewaso Lions team pushes forward, working with communities, to ensure the long-term survival of Kenya’s top predators and other wildlife.

Lion News

We are currently monitoring close to 40 lions in the Ewaso ecosystem of Samburu. The lions did well during the drought of late 2009. All cubs survived and thrived when most other animals succumbed to the severity of the drought. Most of the females have cubs at the moment, including Magilani in Westgate. We are very excited to report that she was finally seen in April 2010 with two young cubs. She was last seen in August 2009, so it is a huge relief to see her again, especially with cubs.

Conflict:

Lions face high pressure from recent conflict. Lions are struggling to find wild prey and are turning to livestock. Recently in Westgate Conservancy, lions killed three camels; in response, we have held seven community meetings within the entire group ranch. We addressed the need to make bomas stronger with closed entrances so livestock does not escape and end up in predator territory. Herders need to be extra careful and avoid areas where lions are present. The meetings were well-received and the livestock owners have responded by reinforcing bomas to protect livestock better. We will be actively involved in a boma reinforcing project from May onwards thanks to support from our donors.

A lioness killed in retaliation by a person.

If conflict continues, things could get grim for the lions and we are working hard to continue with our awareness and education programmes. It is thanks to your donations that we are able to go out each day and hold meetings and travel around the group ranch talking to the communities about lions.

To read our blog on the increased conflict, click here.

Radio-Collaring:

After months of trying, we successfully collared the elusive male lion, Lguret, in late February. He was first collared in 2009 and it was time to replace his collar. It was no easy task to find him; we spent a total of 60 field days over the past eight months, averaging 12 hours each day, and driving nearly two thousand kilometers! Lguret now has a new radio/GPS tracking collar and we will be able to capture valuable movement data.

For photos and a detailed account on this collaring operation, click here.

Lguret, the radio-collared lion in Samburu.

We have begun to analyse the data from his old collar and preliminary results already show interesting patterns where he moved out of the reserves to areas where large numbers of livestock were present. Lguret was re-collared before the March floods and we are yet to know where he has gone during this time. We still have plans to collar at least four more individuals.

Collaring lions is very tough work and requires a lot of time and funds. We are grateful for all the donors who have assisted us so far and I urge you all to keep supporting us so we can monitor the Ewaso lions closely.

Camera Trapping:

Thanks to donors, we have acquired two camera traps for the project. Identifying individual predators in Westgate is difficult since they are nervous and often run away before we can take good identity photos. Plus, the candid photos of wildlife in the absence of humans may give us insight into some of their natural behaviours. Each night we place the camera traps in the Conservation Area of Westgate in strategic locations where we know lions, hyenas and other animals pass. It is always exciting in the mornings to go and check the cameras and see what the cameras have captured. So far, we have managed to get some great photos of elephants and hyenas (including one of a hyena biting the actual camera!). We have since built metal boxes around the cameras to deter curious and toothsome hyenas. In time, we hope to have a collection of ID photos to estimate the density of carnivores in this community area.

A spotted hyena captured by our camera trap.

Other Wildlife News:

Many animals died during the severe drought in 2009. Almost all buffalo, waterbuck, warthog and impala died during this time. The rains returned in October and the survivors made the most of the new grass shoots that emerged. Rains in March and April have created a lush green paradise in the reserves. Fattened oryx, huge herds of impala, gazelle and giraffe are scattered all over the reserves and elephants are back in large numbers.

We have been fortunate to have some good predator sightings, including our first cheetah sighting in Westgate. We are excited to have seen wild dogs on numerous occasions both in the reserves and in Westgate, including a pack that passed right behind our camp kitchen! We’ve also seen caracal and had a very special sighting of an aardvark. The vegetation has now begun to dry up and we are busy recording and monitoring all wildlife changes.

Wild dogs seen in the Conservation Area.

Staff News

Paul Thomson joined the Ewaso Lions team full-time in January. Paul has over five years professional experience in African wildlife conservation and is pursuing a Masters degree at Yale. Before joining Ewaso Lions, Paul worked with the African Wildlife Foundation in both Kenya and Washington, DC. We are very excited to have Paul join the team and you will be hearing a lot from him as well. Karibu sana Paul!

In April 2010, we employed two new field members. Moses Letitiya has taken over Jeneria’s position as Lion scout in the Sasaab region. Jeneria is now our head tracker and research assistant. Robert Lenongiro has recently started as Community Officer. Both Robert and Moses are from Westgate. Ricila is now in charge of the Warrior Watch programme (see below) and is Camp Chef. Joseph is Camp Manager and is being trained in data management.

The Ewaso Lions team.

PhD

After some challenges in 2009 due to the security troubles and severe drought, Shivani is busy catching up with PhD-related work and data analysis. She has about another year to complete her PhD with the University of Oxford. She will be traveling to Oxford towards the end of the year to begin writing her thesis. The guys will carry on with activities in the field and in Camp whilst Shivani is away.

News in Camp

Ewaso Lions Camp, located in Westgate Community Conservancy just outside Samburu National Reserve, has seen some real growth this past year. We finally have permanent shade, thanks to our new Mess structure kindly provided by Sasaab Lodge. It is no longer possible to pack up the whole camp in Gypsy the way we used to in 2008!

We still need a lot more in camp: more tents, tables, cooking items, and fuel. Our chairs are broken and solar battery has died. Also, with the rains, our bathrooms have all collapsed and need to be rebuilt. We appreciate any donation towards our Camp needs and are grateful to all of you who have supplied so much to date.

The project has just acquired a Toyota Landcruiser. The vehicle has been christened Winslow (don’t ask!) and is a great companion for the faithful Suzuki, Gypsy. Together, Winslow and Gypsy will allow us to expand the reach and impact of our work across our project area, which covers over 900 km2.

Paul driving around in Winslow, the new project vehicle.

We have hosted many visitors over the past few months. Christina Tsantes from Hunter College, New York, stayed with us for six weeks in July/August and greatly assisted with setting up of databases. Scott Smith from the Wildlife Conservation Society spent a wonderful week in camp in October and witnessed both the severity of the drought and the first rains. Stacey Gardebrecht visited and assisted us for a week in February, followed by Aimee Guha-Roy from the University of Oxford who helped with data and gained some field experience – little did she know she would arrive for the floods! We are happy to host Mary Wykstra and her team from the Action for Cheetahs in Kenya at our Camp whilst she conducts fieldwork in Samburu.

Warrior Watch

We are thrilled to announce our newest programme, Warrior Watch. Through Warrior Watch, Samburu warriors become active within their communities as wildlife ambassadors by reporting on wildlife sightings and issues such as conflict in exchange for a stipend and educational lessons. In partnership with Westgate Conservancy, we selected and trained the first six warriors in January. The programme is already showing signs of success: the warriors seem to genuinely enjoy their new roles; they’ve held meetings throughout the group ranch; and have attended over ten conflict cases in four months. We hope to increase the number of warriors in the programme and are currently seeking funds to enable us to do so. Meet the warriors and see what else they do here.

Shivani working with the warriors on predator tracks identification.

Sponsoring Students

We are happy to announce the first two students sponsored by Ewaso Lions, Samson and Edward. These bright boys completed primary school at Lpus Leluai here in Westgate Conservancy. Under the Ewaso Lions sponsorship, they will continue their education at a highly ranked secondary school in Meru, and their tuition will be covered for four academic years. We received donations from Christina, Nina, Kathy and Trey to enable the boys to go to school. At the end of their first term in their new school, both boys achieved a grade of B- in their subjects, and we are thrilled with these results. Meet the boys here!

New Book: Simba Stories

In May, Ewaso Lions will release Simba Stories, a book of poems, stories and illustrations that celebrate lions, all made by students from Lpus Leluai Primary School in Westgate. The artwork encapsulates their perceptions of lions as they parse together their own young experiences with those learnt in their community and through conservation education programmes. We will be distributing the book locally to increase awareness on the importance of lions and conservation.

Simba Stories will be available for purchase – the details will be posted online. Proceeds from book sales will be used to establish a Wildlife Club at Lpus Leluai Primary School. A very special thanks to Lindsay Morency for putting the book together and making it look so fantastic!

Floods in Samburu

On March 4th, Samburu was rocked by severe flooding, which left eight camps and lodges destroyed, hundreds of people without jobs, infrastructure ruined, and tourism essentially shut down in the area. We were very fortunate – the Ewaso Lions camp was not affected.

Ewaso Lions’ friends and donors responded quickly to our appeals and we were able to assist many Samburu residents with food and clothing. Things are now beginning to recover and lodges and camps are being constructed and repaired. We are yet to assess the impact on wildlife as so many roads are still impassable. See photos of the flood and its aftermath here.

Launch of Kenya’s Lion and Spotted Hyena Strategy

Ewaso Lions was represented at the launch of the National Lion Strategy. Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) officially launched it at an event in Nairobi on the 17th of February together with the strategies for spotted hyena, cheetahs and wild dogs. This management plan recognises the current and potential geographical range for lions and the threats facing them, and provides guidance for their conservation and management.

Ewaso Lions played an important role in the management plan by providing data and information on lions and hyenas from the Samburu region. Ricila & Mporian, warriors from our Warrior Watch programme, joined Joseph, Paul, and Shivani at the KWS headquarters for the launch. Mporian was given the honour of opening the ceremony with a traditional Samburu blessing.

Lion Research Safari

In January, we had our first Lion Research Safari in conjunction with Gamewatchers (a fantastic, eco-friendly safari company which has a number of Porini Camps in Kenya). Our guests, the Wills family of Scotland joined us during our research activities in Shaba and visited our community programmes in Westgate. For more information on Lion Research Safaris, and how they help our project, go to: http://www.porini.com/lion-research-safari.html

Kenyan Kids on Safari

We have now taken more than 40 young kids on game drives in Samburu and Buffalo Springs National Reserves. Kenyan Kids on Safari (KKOS) and Todd Cromwell donated cameras, binoculars and a print station to Ewaso Lions to allow us to take young children in villages and schools into the National Reserves to see wildlife. Many of these children have never seen the big cats or elephants close-up and only get to see the negative side of wildlife. Together with Intrepids and Sasaab lodges, we have shown these kids a positive side of wildlife. We hope to take more kids on safari in 2010. For more, visit kidsonsafari.org

Children from Kenyan Kids on Safari.

Tree Project

We have planted 75 trees to date within schools and villages in Westgate. Unfortunately most of the trees died during the 2009 drought. We hope to resume and reenergize the Tree Project over the next few months.

Westgate Marathon

Together with Sasaab Lodge and Westgate Conservancy, we held the first-ever Westgate Marathon on the 1st of May, 2010. The Westgate Marathon was open to everyone. The theme was “Running for Lions.” The marathon was a huge success – we had 30 runners participate including five from the Ewaso Lions team. The winners will be sponsored to run the famous Safaricom Lewa Marathon in June. We hope to hold another Westgate Marathon in 2011 and this time both Paul and Shivani will be out there running for lions!

Joseph running in the Westgate Marathon.

New Ewaso Lions Logo

Ewaso Lions finally has a logo! Paul helped create the bold new logo, which will raise the profile of our growing project and has given our team a sense of identity. We now have stylish new shirts and decals on our vehicles bearing the logo. We hope you like it!

Blog, Facebook and Twitter

Ewaso Lions has launched a full-scale attack on the Internet. We’ve updated our website, we continue to blog as much as possible, and we are more and more active in growing our online community through our Facebook and Twitter pages. Please friend us, follow us, and send us feedback. Also, spread the word and encourage your friends to join Ewaso Lions.

——–

Thanks to you – our donors and partners – we have come this far in a relatively short period of time. Without your support, our work would not be possible. We are making real progress here, but there is still so much more to be done. We hope you will continue to support this important work as we continue to expand our research and conservation programmes.

Your donations and support are ultimately helping safeguard the future of lions, while improving peoples’ livelihoods, in the Ewaso region of northern Kenya. Donate online here.

For lions. For people. Forever.

With our very best wishes from Samburu,

Shivani Bhalla & Paul Thomson

Directors, Ewaso Lions

Contact

Ewaso Lion Project

P.O. Box 14996

Nairobi 00800

Kenya

Tel: (+254) 721 696 443

Email: [email protected]

Website: www.ewasolions.org

Blog: www.ewasolions.wildlifedirect.org

Join Ewaso Lions on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @EwasoLions

Finally Capturing and Collaring Lguret

We’ve just completed a grueling but successful lion collaring operation in the reserves. The four-day operation was sponsored by Save The Elephants (STE) and involved putting tracking collars on eight elephants and one lion. To be efficient and utilize the time of the visiting Kenya Wildlife Service vet, decided to re-collar Lguret, the male lion we collared a year ago.

Lguret and his brother Loirish spent most of the time hiding in deep bush, in a river that made getting to him impossible. On a few occasions they emerged, and we frantically radioed the vet to come, but as soon as the vet came, the lions disappeared back into hiding. It was frustrating and exhausting work.

On the last day, just when we were starting to lose hope, we tracked for hours and then Jeneria spotted the lions lying under a bush. The vet and an STE car arrived and we prepared ourselves. The anxiety and tension was palpable: it was now or never.

We carefully approached the lions, and the vet successfully made the shot, anesthetizing Lguret while his brother ran off. We jumped into action to remove his old collar, affix his new one, take his measurements, and collect samples. He eventually entered a deep sleep and we finished our tasks quickly.

After administering the antidote, we stayed with the lion to make sure he recovered well. Not bothered by his collar, he eventually walked away to sleep off his wooziness.

The tracking collar will provide valuable data on the lion’s movements in and out of the reserves. The collar does not harm the animal, nor does it even seem to bother him.

After the vet anesthetized Lguret, we waited for him to fall asleep.

Shivani and Jeneria take measurements.

My what big teeth you have!

The Ewaso Lions team and the vets with Lguret. His head is covered to protect his eyes from the sun.

A bit groggy, Lguret woke up and recovered nicely.

This has marked the end of a long attempt to collar Lguret. It has been no easy task: a total of 60 field days over the past 8 months, averaging 12 hours each day, and driving nearly two thousand kilometers! Now we can breathe a sigh of relief that the search is over and now we will be able to capture valuable data that can help ensure the long-term conservation of these incredible animals.

Please share your comments. We love hearing from our readers!

Camera Traps

Thanks to Panthera, we now have two camera traps to assist us in documenting night visitors. Camera traps are digital cameras equipped with motion sensors, which take photos automatically when an animal (lion, leopard, hyena, etc.) passes by and sets off the camera.

I’ve never used one before, but I’ve been intrigued for some time, having followed the adventures (and often the misadventures) of fellow camera trappers like Nakedi Maputla, who studies leopards in the Kruger, and the “Camera Trap Codger” who has turned his interest in trapping into an art form.

We hope that our camera traps will give us close-up photos of animals that we normally couldn’t get close to. They’ll help document the numbers and types of species which are not always easy to spot from a vehicle or during the day time. Plus, the candid photos of wildlife in the absence of humans may give us insight into some of their natural behaviors.

The other night we set up a camera trap in the Conservation Area near camp here in West Gate. After fiddling with the settings, tying it to a tree trunk with several ropes, and giving it a blessing that no hyena shall eat it, we left the trap to do its thing.

A key part of the camera trapping process is the anticipation leading up to checking your camera to see what it may have captured. This morning on our dawn patrol through the Conservation Area, we came across three hyenas plodding down the road. We were both excited that they may have passed our camera and terrified that our brand new camera may have become hyena chow.

The camera had some slight scratches from a hyena tooth, but luckily, the camera was still in one piece. Back at camp we downloaded the images and were thrilled to find that some curious hyenas passed by the trap and posed nicely.

This is just the beginning. We will continue to use the camera traps in various areas around Samburu and see what other photogenic wildlife we can “capture”.

This photo caught a bull elephant, clearly showing he is in musth.

This photo caught a bull elephant, clearly showing he is in musth.

A curious hyena stops to inspect the strange object.

A curious hyena stops to inspect the strange object.

The hyena came to inspect the camera, took a bite of the casing, but left no lasting damage.

The camera got a close-up of the hyena’s belly as it took a bite of the casing, but left no lasting damage.

Bush Laboratory

Between January and May this year I collected 17 lion faecal samples in the reserve and Francis, one of the Ewaso Lion scouts has collected 10 samples in the community area. This is an important component of my project where I want to compare lion’s diet in the reserves and in West Gate Community Conservancy.

After collecting all the samples, I dried and put them in a crate for preservation until I was ready to begin analysis. A Kenyan student from Oxford University, Will, has recently arrived to help me. He has brought a microscope with him and has begun plucking the hairs from the scat and mounting them on slides.

This bush laboratory has intrigued everyone who passes by camp including the staff from the nearby lodge. Many have wandered in to have a peek in the microscope and see what’s going on! Camels and donkeys that usually graze in the camp area got a scare a few days ago when they got a whiff of all the lion scat. They scampered off in all directions and now tread cautiously in the area!

bush-lab.JPG

Learamu looking through the microscope under Will’s supervision