Lion Pride

A month ago when we left there were encouraging signs that the drought was over. Rain had greened-up lots of plains in the Mara, especially the North West. Hardly a drop fell since we left, and the Olare Orok Conservacy is very dry - but there is still good drinking water, so plenty of healthy looking zebras, wildedbeeste, topi and gazelles are hanging around. And there are also plenty of dead cows in various states of decomposition. Many of cattle herds here have been weakened by long treks from other areas in Kenya, where the drought was still having a huge effect. Yesterday, heavy rain hit Nairobi and surrounds, while rain was visible to us over the Northern Serengeti. Hopefully the drought is finally over.

What effect the dryness, all these cattle and accompanying people are having on the lions is hard to say. There have been spearings as well as poisonings, and everyone reports fewer lions in areas where they were common.

The day before yesterday we set off north to Maternity Plain with the help of Sara and Emma Blackburn of the Mara Predator Project to find The Group of Seven; one 3 year old male born in that area, one adult female of unknown provenance, her four 18 month old cubs, 2 boys 2 girls, as well as a smaller adopted cub. This kind of pride doesn’t fit the normal stable lion pride stereotype, but seems to be more common here at the moment, and mature males are thin on the ground.

The Group of Seven set off to towards wildebeeste herds at dusk, and the daughters didn’t disappoint, randomly chasing anything that moved, while mum held back as if to teach them the lesson of patience. The group spread out, chased all the animals away, then reformed for another go. Second time round, the 2 girls produced the same result and all the wildlife legged it.

The night was moonless and partly cloudy, conditions in which neither prey nor lions can see very far, and sound and scent become more important. The lions roughly locate some prey by sound and spread out in that direction. This time, mum decided that playtime was over and had to show the cubs how it was actually done. She knew more or less where the cubs were, and where a sitting herd of wildebeest was quitely chewing its collective cud. Mum made a huge loop around to the other side, careful to keep her footfalls silent, still not sure exactly where the wildebeeste were.

Now the wildebeeste were between her and the cubs who appeared to be waiting for something to happen. Mum charged straight into the middle of the panicking herd, and downed an adult, cheetah-style with a flick to the back legs. It was practically dead by the time the first cub arrived. An hour later, the Group of Seven had devoured the lot, with surprisingly little fighting.

Let’s hope that in time, despite living in a heavily grazed and human inhabited area, the Group of Seven can become a stable and successful pride.


kate said...

That is very good news about the rain. From what I remember, the East African rains can sweep away a drought in no time. I hope that is still true today. -kate

Madame DeFarge said...

I do love hearing about this and understanding what happens behind the cameras. Great insight.

xl said...

Have you seen many non-standard prides like The Group Of Seven?

A few years ago there was a remarkable documentary about a lone lioness that took a baby oryx from its mother and "adopted" it. The oryx was too young to be afraid and the lioness seemed to be attempting to mother it. Over the course of several days both weaken from lack of food and water. Eventually the oryx was killed by a rogue male lion.

ammonite said...

It is good news Kate, we hope it continues

Glad you're enjoying it Mme D

I do remember hearing about that story xl, I'll leave Mr Director to discuss the non-standard group question.


ammonite said...

Kate, the drought in Kenya seems to be almost over, but it's still dry here in the Mara and there are still plenty of starving cattle from other areas dropping dead on the plains.
Mme D much more to come about what happens behind the cameras
XL, most of the groups I meet are 'non standard' More of group composition later when we spend more time with the enormous (24) fragmenting Monico bunch