KENYA LION EXPEDITION 2020
In February 2020, our chairman James along with representatives from two of our supporters, David Southard of Wild Arena Ltd and Peter Johnson of Knowsley Safari went to spend a week in Kenya to visit one of our newest conservation partners, the Mara Predator Conservation Programme at their headquarters in the Olare Motogori Conservancy just outside the Maasai Mara National Reserve.
Together we had the pleasure of meeting Niels Mogensen, Senior Programme Scientist for the Mara Predator Conservation Programme and is based in the field running the monitoring programmes. Along with research assistants Grace and Saitoti we were fortunate enough to join them on their monitoring sessions to find lions within their study areas and to try and get photographs to help identify younger cubs.
As we were fortunate enough to be travelling with David, a professional photographer he had the idea to make a series of daily video blogs that we can share on social media and on our website. Originally shared on Facebook these videos are now all on here to allow you all a better idea of what we saw on our incredible trip to the Mara.
The idea of this trip was to allow us to see the work first hand that our conservation partners do to protect and monitor the lions in their area. These videos should tell you all about our trip and what we learnt while we were there. Thanks again to David of Wild Arena Ltd for assisting us and for more information on their work please look here.
WHAT WE LEARNT...
This time of year is tough for lions. Without the wildebeest and zebra migration from the Serengeti between July to October the number of prey species is significantly reduced. The animals that are left are always on high alert due to the constant risk of predation due to these lower numbers and as such catching prey is difficult in these months.
Due to an unusually high amount of rain for this time of year the grass had grown much longer than normal. This made it a lot harder for us to find the lions and it makes the jobs of the MPCP team a lot harder in trying to monitor these individuals. The long grass would normally make it easier for the lions to hunt but because of the reduced number of prey species they are aware of this fact and they spend most of their time in the bush areas where the grass is shorter and they can be more aware of the predators nearby. This has made it a lot harder for the lions to hunt and we saw evidence of this in the condition of some of the lions.
During our visit we saw a young cub which we initially thought was dead but actually still breathing ever so slightly. Reserve wardens were watching close by to ensure that tourists remained respectful and kept their distance. The cub was very thin but nearby we saw cubs of the same age looking better. It was a stark reminder that it is very much survival of the fittest out there and that this little cub was beyond surviving.
One of the male lions we saw on Day 6 was famous Mara resident 'Lolparpit' who is believed to be 14 years old - a very old age for a male lion and he was starting to look it. His vertebrae were visible along his spine and he did look very thin, it looked like this kings time was coming to an end. Whether or not he could last till the Sumer when the wildebeest migration arrive would probably determine his chances to survive the rest of the year. Lion life is incredibly tenious and flexible and there can be no guarentees, Lolparpit and his companion Olbarnati would also have to look at for threats from invading males as well as their search for food.
Conservation is complicated. The work of the MPCP involves collecting behavioural data on the predators as well as crucial population surveys and the locations in which they are found and the monitoring of individuals via GPS collars. The data collected can be used and interpreted by the scientists in line with other data, for example when compared to human settlement and livestock density which can allow them to come to conclusions on the human impact of the Mara predator populations. This information can then be passed onto the National Park authorities and the conservancy managers to help create more sustainable practices to work positively alongside these predator populations. However the authority to actively protect individuals remains with these authorities and the MPCP community work is based largely on an approach based mainly on advisory techniques via presenting different pieces of evidence. Niels stressed that the local people must be involved with every conservation programme as they share the habitat with these animals and they are crucial to the successful development of any conservation project.
Update November 2020 - Lolparpit the male lion discussed and pictured above was found dead after a few months of living nomadic, limping badly on his back legs and loosing condition. Lolparpit was a local legend and leaves a legacy in his descendants across the Mara - RIP. His brother Olbarnoti still appears to be in good condition despite his age.