Tag Archives: big cats

The Marsh Pride: end of an era

Jonathan Scott: The poisoning of members of the Marsh Pride, the world’s best known lions, highlights the need for a lasting solution to human–wildlife conflict in Africa

 

Lioness Bibi in her prime in the Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. Bibi was a member of the Marsh Pride that featured in the BBC TV series “Big Cat Diary” from 1996 to 2008. Bibi died on 6 December 2015 after being poisoned along with other members of the pride. Photograph: courtesy of © Andrea Scott. All rights reserved.

Lioness Bibi in her prime in the Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. Bibi was a member of the Marsh Pride that featured in the BBC TV series “Big Cat Diary” from 1996 to 2008. Bibi died on 6 December 2015 after being poisoned along with other members of the pride. Photograph: courtesy of © Andrea Scott. All rights reserved.

On Sunday morning (6 December 2015) news broke of the poisoning of members of the Marsh Pride. These are the lions that Angela and I have followed since 1977 and were the stars of our “Big Cat” TV series, that documented the fascinating and often tumultuous life of the pride over a period of more than 12 years.

The Marsh Pride occupies a territory on the edge of the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, one of Africa’s foremost protected areas. All members of the “big five” (lion, leopard, African elephant, African buffalo, and black rhinoceros) are found on the vast plains of the Mara, plus a wealth of other wildlife.

On Saturday night, the lions had killed cattle belonging to a family living near the reserve. In retaliation, a member of the family sprinkled pesticide onto the carcass, knowing that the lions would return. He was intentionally trying to kill them. How many lions have died as a result is still unclear.

 

The body of Marsh Lioness Bibi, who died from poisoning at 7.30 am on Sunday 6 December 2015, along with other members of the Marsh Pride. Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. Photograph: Courtesy of Patrick Reynolds

The body of Marsh Lioness Bibi, who died from poisoning at 7.30 am on Sunday 6 December 2015, along with other members of the Marsh Pride. Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. Photograph: Courtesy of Patrick Reynolds

I wish I could say that this was shocking news, but there is nothing shocking any more about what is happening in the Masai Mara. Tens of thousands of cattle encroach in to the Reserve every night when visitors are safely out of sight – but when the likelihood of conflict with predators such as lions and hyenas is at its greatest. This makes no sense.

This sorry state of affairs is testimony to the appalling management of the Reserve east of the river. This is a situation that has existed for at least as long as I have known the Masai Mara. Management failures contributed to the precipitous decline in the Mara’s black rhino population from an estimated 150 to 200 in the 1960s to just 11 by 1983 (it has risen again to between 30 and 40).

The BBC filmed the hugely popular TV series ‘Big Cat Diary’ in Marsh Pride territory from 1996 to 2008. Our base in the Mara was – and still is – a stone cottage at Governor’s Camp. This is a safari camp set in the heart of the reserve, in the vicinity of the glorious Musiara Marsh after which the Marsh Lions were named.

The Marsh is the heart of the Marsh Pride’s dry season territory, while to the east the intermittent watercourse known as Bila Shaka was the traditional breeding site and resting place for the pride. Bila Shaka means ‘without fail’ in Swahili, testimony that the guides could always find lions here. Not now.

Each year Governor’s Camp outfitted a special tented camp for us along the Mara River just upstream from Main Camp. The foundation of the series was that we always knew that we could find lions, leopards and cheetahs in the area on a daily basis. The Marsh Pride were at the heart of the series, and virtually never let us down.

The Marsh Pride at home in the Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. Photograph: courtesy of © Andrea Scott. All rights reserved.

The Marsh Pride at home in the Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. Photograph: courtesy of © Andrea Scott. All rights reserved.

But that all changed when the authorities decided to turn a blind eye to the incursion of cattle into the reserve, forcing the lions to move out or risk death. The Marsh Pride has always been vulnerable since its territory spreads beyond the reserve boundary. This is particularly apparent in the wet season when Musiara Marsh (and Bila Shaka at times) becomes waterlogged and the lions move to higher ground to north and east.

Each year we lose lions to poisoning or spearing by pastoralists. That was always part of life for the lions. But in the last few years the situation has escalated beyond all reason, with the Marsh Pride becoming increasingly fragmented by the influx of cattle and herdsmen. Today it would be impossible to film Big Cat Diary in the same location. What a damning fact that is.

This year the impact of livestock has been all too apparent. Huge herds of cattle would camp during the daytime along the boundary of the reserve waiting for the tourists to head in to camp. Soon the Musiara area looked like a desert and each night you could see dozens of flickering torches as the cattle were driven in to the reserve after dark.

The deep tracks leading into the reserve are testament to this, along with piles of cattle dung scattered deep inside it. And the Musiara area is not alone. Guides from other parts of the Mara have been complaining about this situation for years. But nobody seems to be able to do anything about it.

These incursions are threatening the social cohesion – and very existence – of the Marsh Pride. Earlier in the year a breakaway group of young Marsh Pride females with young cubs were forced to cross the Mara River and set up home in the Kichwa Tembo area. The older females – Bibi (17), Sienna (11) and Charm (11) – and their cubs increasingly avoided Bila Shaka and the Marsh, loitering at the fringes of their traditional territory, forced to encroach on neighbouring prides.

The pride males – Scarface and his three companions – no longer visit the Musiara area, ever since Scarface was shot in 2013. He was treated and recovered but knew better than to stay.

In the past pride males often only managed a tenure of 2 years – sometimes less – before being forced out of their pride by younger or more powerful rivals. It was not uncommon to see groups of five or six young nomadic males roaming the Musiara or Paradise area together. I have counted as many as nine travelling as a group. That was a sign of a healthy lion population with lots of dispersing sub-adults.

Now Marsh Pride males are able to remain as pride males for many more years, due to a decline in the number of young nomadic male lions vying to replace them. The scarcity of these nomadic males suggests that they are not surviving as well as in the past, due to the disturbance that lions are facing on a nightly basis in parts of the Mara from livestock and herdsmen, or from trying to survive in less optimal areas beyond the reserve boundary.

Lions are always going to kill livestock if it comes within range – and of course they will sometimes kill livestock outside the reserve and must bear the consequences when they do. The only way to prevent this happening is if there are sufficient incentives to persuade the herdsmen that lions equate to tourists – and that means a financial return.

And that is the key point. Many Masai do not think of the Masai Mara Reserve as a source of income. They often feel that it is unfair that wildlife is allowed to share their pastures, and sometimes kill their livestock, while they are not allowed to reciprocate by bringing livestock in to the Reserve during dry times.

The Masai have roamed these areas for hundreds of years, long before it was given official protection. Understandably the Masai claim the Mara as their own. The authorities urgently need to address this issue by ensuring that everyone benefits from tourism to the Mara in a truly tangible way.

There will be no safe place for the Marsh Lions until the reserve authorities decide to address all of the issues that have been debated ever since I first came to live in the Mara in 1977. Measures must be taken now to ensure an equitable distribution of revenue from the reserve to the local community, and to increase support for the wildlife conservancies created on private lands around the reserve, where cattle grazing is permitted on a rotational basis.

Within the reserve, there should be a moratorium on any further tourism development, and an embargo on grazing of livestock.

What a miracle it would be if the demise of the Marsh Pride became the catalyst for serious dialogue and change as to how the Masai Mara is managed. The Governor of Narok County, the Honorable Samuel Ole Tunai, pledged to do just that when he called a Masai Mara Stakeholders Meeting in Nairobi in September 2015.

I attended that meeting and was impressed by the number of people who made the effort to come along and by the Governor’s openness to dialogue. Since then a small group of concerned individuals drawn from all walks of life have worked to support the Governor’s initiative.

We can only hope that we are about to witness tangible steps towards securing the future of this iconic landscape and its magnificent wildlife.

 

Paula Kahumbu writes: This is an edited version of an article written by Jonathan and Angela Scott and published on their blog on 7 December 2015. Jonathan and his wife Angie are award winning authors and internationally renowned wildlife photographers. My sincere thanks to Jonathan and Angela for permission to publish the article here.

Responding to a tip-off from visitors, the Kenya Wildlife Service and local authorities acted swiftly to bring the culprits to court, while the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and other local conservation organisations were prompt to treat the affected lions. But despite this veterinary support three lions have already died. At the time of writing, another four are still sick. The condition of others is not known.

Kenya has never before charged a person with poisoning wildlife, even though it is a frequent crime that has devastating effects on populations of lions, vultures and other predators.

However in this case the new Wildlife Crime Prosecution Unit has moved quickly to charge the suspects of this crime with offences against endangered wildlife species under Section 92 of the 2013 Wildlife Act, which could result in a fine of Ksh 20 million (USD 200,000) and/or life imprisonment.

This is another welcome sign that Kenyan courts are now taking wildlife crimes seriously. As Jonathan eloquently argues, this needs to be backed up by action to address the root causes of wildlife crime, inspired by the vision of a common future for people and wildlife

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/africa-wild/2015/dec/09/the-marsh-pride-end-of-an-era#_=_

Saving the last lions


   

This article is in today’s Washington Post and is written by a good friend of WildlfeDirect, Dereck Joubert

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Just 50 years ago there were close to a half-million lions in Africa — about 450,000 in all. Today there are between 16,000 and 23,000. And yet, unlike elephants (a far more numerous species), lions have no protection under the international accord governing such matters.

Big cats are in trouble everywhere. The number of tigers has dipped below 3,000. Indeed, as we look at the lion population today, it’s the shadow of the tiger’s history that scares me most. Tiger bones are used extensively in the East for medicines and mythological (read nonsense) cures for ailments or limp libidos, and the demand is increasing. A growing demand and a disappearing supply is a formula for disaster.

The solution we are seeing play out is a switch from tiger bones to lion bones, which can be easily sold off as tiger bones. It’s ironic that the most famous animal in Africa, perhaps in the world, can’t even be poached on its own value but only as a “mock tiger.”

This week the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) is meeting to decide whether lions, whose numbers have declined by 50 percent in the past 20 years, are worthy of protection under Appendix I to the convention: the listing of the most endangered animals. The problem is that the safari hunting industry and buyers in Asia are opposing it, because such a decree would limit what they can do with the trophies. Fact: Appendix I does not mean you can’t shoot a lion — it means you can’t import the skin to hang on the wall. And the answer to the question we are asked a thousand times is: Yes, you can still go to Africa to kill a lion.

CITES needs a country to sponsor the motion for lion protection. We can’t, so far, get one to put its hand up first, to take on the issue and save lions. No one will risk offending big safari hunting lobbies. It would seem that many are just not thinking this through. Extinction threatens by the year 2020. Then there will be no lions to hunt, or to protect.

(Meanwhile another ominous development poses a further threat to wildlife. A pesticide is being used by poachers to kill lions and many other animals. Sprinkled on meat, it kills lions, hyenas, vultures and other creatures in minutes).

We don’t have much time. The biggest threat isn’t hunters, poachers or poison makers — it is our own complacency, the lazy hope that someone else is taking care of the great beasts of Africa.

Lions and other large predators are disappearing even as we learn more about the collapse of entire ecosystems. The $200 billion a year reaped from ecotourism will be lost, causing suffering among communities all over Africa that rely on this trade.

As explorers in residence at National Geographic, my wife, Beverly, and I are calling on everyone with even a remote interest in big cats, or in Africa, to make sure that these wild systems keep working well. Scientists, conservationists — everyone — must come together, work together and support this effort now: the Big Cats Initiative. It’s a movement that doesn’t want to exclude a single soul or leave out any idea on how to reduce the conflict. We have a short window of time in which we can remedy this. It is closing very rapidly.

Dereck Joubert and his wife, Beverly Joubert, are National Geographic explorers in residence. They have spent years making films and writing about the big cats of Africa. To view some of their photos and films, visit http://www.wildlifeconservationfilms.com. For more information, visit http://www.nationalgeographic.com/bigcats.

Extraordinary predator images from Africa

The world is a buzz about Big Cat Diary and it has been a wonderful week with some extraordinary pictures on Wildlife Direct of predators. Nobody I knew could identify this unusual cat.

 

 Melanistic Serval

If you want to know what it is then go on expedition across Africa with Simon and Laela who are documenting their 2 year safari in one of the most exciting blogs to watch in coming weeks as they explore places, discover new birds of prey and meet extraordinary people. The combination of their rare writing skills and fantastic photographs generates some of the most photographically exhilarating blogs that we’ve seen for some time.

 

But big cats and other predators in Africa are in trouble as revealed in the Masai Mara ecosystem on Predator Aware , and on Lion Guardians where the drought is leading to human conflict with lions leading to retaliation killings of lions.

But it’s the shocking images of poaching in Zimbabwe, and as lions attack wild dogs in South Africa that really stood out for me and made me want to weep. These guys really need help.

 Dead wild dog

 

Don’t worry, it’s not all bad… there is some good news at least for lions in the Okavango Delta,  for now lions are safe and food is plentiful, and Cheetahs are about to start breeding so watch the Limpopo Valley Carnivores blog for images of the cubs in coming weeks.

 

Please support our predator projects generously as they work against all odds to species at the top of the food chain. Funding will help these extraordinary projects to find ways for predators and people to co-exist.