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The Fig Tree Boys

While on a game drive we headed into the bush along the edge of the conservancy along its boundary to Ol Kinyei Conservancy. We spotted a truck already viewing something of interest so we headed towards them.

Right in front of the vehicle was a young male lion. His coat blended in perfectly with the bush behind them. His mane flowed down his chest to the top of his front legs with a mohawk running down his neck down to the top of his shoulders. The two sections of mane had not yet joined together, a clear indicator of his youth. His proud stance as he sat upright echoed the false confidence of a young male. The small size and lightness of his mane allowed him to disappear into the bush with ease as he left the company of the tourist truck and us. This male was clearly not part of the powerful coalition that I had already been told about. This male was a marauding male, an unwelcome visitor to the conservancy.

As we made our way through the bush to continue to try and track him we came across a young male with a slightly larger mane. Our original young male was sat amongst the vegetation with the greenery behind him. The new male was sat behind the bush watching his every move intently. The other male started to coil around underneath the bush rubbing himself on the leaves which he seemed to find great fun. As the male rolled around he showed his still very spotty underbelly, again another indicator of his youth. The other male started to crouch, ready to pounce. All of a sudden he shot into the bush and landed on his companion who dashed out of his way in a playful manner. After this he moved to sit under another bush about 15 yards away, watching the tourist truck from a more private location. With the absence of his companion the new larger male took up the favoured resting place and both males were clearly very calm and content in each others company.

As we moved on about 40 yards away another young male appeared walking towards us. All three boys seemed to want to keep a low profile as all three were slightly startled by our presence. The new male climbed into the bush for a minute before continuing his journey towards the other two males. This male was slightly different in his appearance, his coat was greyer comparison and his Mohawk was already black and ran all the way down his neck. The ruff of mane around his face was already more developed, puffing out of the side of his cheeks. This male looked the part and certainly had the makings of a future dominant male. However he would only be able to succeed with the assistance of his two blonde companions who he continued to make his way towards. This is where the importance of a coalition makes perfect sense, the more of you the more security you have but also the more power you have when you reach your prime. This is a difficult time for young males, often living their life on the edge of society and on the edge of the protected areas.

Later back in camp I was able to identify these males as the Fig Tree Boys and I learnt of their story. Originally from the Maasai Mara National Reserve the boys dispersed from their birth pride as normal lion behaviour would dictate. They made the journey out of the reserve and into Naboisho but were met with the fierce welcome of the Rekero males who had completed the same journey themselves only a year before. However the existing coalition Dongo, Ceasar 2, Ron 2 and Blue Eyes still have very tight control over the conservancy and have not tolerated their arrival. Due to this the Fig Tree Boys continue to live a very nomadic life style along the edges of the Conservancy and have ventured out into the community land. These are the lions who are at their most vulnerable as they are not tolerated in the protected areas as they are already preoccupied territory.

These males were estimated to have been born in April 2014 and would have been three and a half years old.

I was told about the efforts the Mara Lion Project have started to try and protect these young males by fitting them with satellite collars. However I was told by our project manager Caroline that a young coalition the same age as the Fig Tree Boys were recently killed in the area. One was found dead of injuries which was suspected to be from fighting with the Fig Tree males with another found to have been fighting with the Rekero males. Another was killed by the local Maasai in revenge to local cattle killings. This highlighted to me the vulnerability of these young males, sadly this is something inflicted by the workings of their complex social life and the encroachment of land ownership and agriculture.

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