Tag Archives: Masai

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


Paula Kahumbu talks at National Geographic

Dear Friends Lions, wildebeest and many other animals are disappearing Africa. Here is why

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This was the  talk that Paula Kahumbu gave during the Explorers week at National Geographic when she was awarded status as a National Geographic Emerging Explorer and is a recipient of funds from the National Geographic Big Cats Initiative.

Please share and send us your comments

Thank you Paolo Torchio for several photographs used in this presentation

Serengeti Highway cancelled

In what appears to be a great accomplishment for conservation, the Tanzanian Government has cancelled plans to build a highway across the  Serengeti. WildlifeDirect wrote  about the threat of the Serengeti Highway back in June when the decision by the Tanzanian government at the time seemed impossible to reverse.

While the decision by the government to scrap plans for the highway appears wise, the truth remains that it took tremendous pressure from NGO’s like WildlifeDirect,  the IUCN, The World Heritage Commission, the German and US Governments. And this was despite support from China to build the road!

While many are celebrating success, we remain cautious. The official statement reads

“The State Party confirms that the proposed road will not dissect the Serengeti National Park and therefore will not affect the migration and conservation values of the Property,”,

It does not explicitly say that the proposed road is actually cancelled.

We remain vigilant because it is not clear what this statement really means.


My life is not my own, it is my children’s

My name is Kathleen Morriss and I am a 3rd year university student at Princeton University. I’m spending 3 months studying ecology and evolutionary biology in Kenya.

“My life is not my own, it is my children’s – everything is for them.” This heartfelt statement from Teresia was the pervading theme throughout our conversation in the warm sun outside her boma as we discussed her feelings towards wildlife and Kenya Wildlife Service. Over the past week our class of 13 Princeton University students has been trying to understand how the Maasai people who live along the border of Nairobi National Park view the wildlife that the Park is increasingly struggling to preserve.


One of our teachers, Dino Martins, translating questions and answers during our discussion with Teresia.

On our first day of interviews we met Nixon, a participant in the Land Lease Program – a conservation initiative that pays US$4 per acre per year to land owners who agree not to fence the land they commit to the program. As Nixon described it, wildlife can be problem, but he understands the value of them and greatly appreciated the Land Lease Program because it provides money for education. He strongly believes education is key to future success, an attitude perfectly characterized by his brown t-shirt featuring the slogan “I <3 Wildlife.”


Nixon’s pro-wildlife shirt.

Like Nixon, Teresia is a strong advocate of education, especially for her children. Unlike Nixon, Teresia does not view the wildlife and government programs in a positive light. Teresia is not part of the Land Lease Program and her answers to our queries brought stories of long nights burning cow dung around the boma to discourage lion attacks and long delays associated with government programs. Teresia repeatedly told us how she and the other members of her women’s group struggle to pay school fees and feed their children while lions kill calves and zebras eat the grass she is carefully conserving for the high quality cow she hopes to purchase.


Burned cow dung piles around the calf boma.

Teresia told us that she understands that wildlife is an important part of the landscape and beneficial for Kenya as a whole, but that she only experiences the costs. She does not want anything for herself, she only wants education and a better life for her children. As of now, wildlife only hinders that goal by destroying her attempts at agriculture or killing her calves.

What struck me most about these two people, both of whom were open and welcoming to our group, was the contrast in attitudes that a simple compensation program produced. The wildlife cause similar problems for both Maasai, but for Nixon they also bring regular cash payments that pay his brothers’ school fees or buy food in times of drought. For Teresia the wildlife are a source of grief and expense – an obstacle to her efforts to better her children’s lives. After our discussions with Nixon and Teresia I am thoroughly convinced that successful conservation programs need to focus on bringing benefits to those suffering from the costs of preserving wildlife. The Land Lease Program’s success comes from its ability to provide economic benefit for a commodity (wildlife) that was previously viewed only as a nuisance.

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Princeton University Students in the wild

Its that time of the year when WildlifeDirect goes back to school – we have just spent ten days running a field course for Princeton undergraduates as part of their semester in Kenya. What have they been doing? Well, the 13 students will tell you about it through their own blogs which will appear right here on Baraza, as well as on Nairobi Park blog

Here are some photos to illustrate what we’ve been up to.


Students interviewing members of the local community in Olerai Conservancy with David Paramisia who was instrumental in setting up this far sighted approach to saving wildlife in the dispersal area from Nairobi National Park.

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John Solonka and Evelyn who work for The Wildlife Foundation talk to Princeton student Patty


Rangers in Olerai Conservancy – a new wildlife sanctuary. These rangers were trained by the Kenya Wildlife Service

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Most of the men were hundreds of kilometers away with the livestock so we interviewed mostly women. The women had unique perspectives on the future of wildlife in their areas.

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Kohei made friends with the local kids

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Interviewing Masai women was followed by song at this homestead.


Dino Martins of Dudu diaries assisted with the course and drew attention to the bugs in the ecosystem. A KWS ranger named Jacob accompanied us to ensure we were safe.

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Gettings stuck – nearly every day. To reach the National Park dispersal area we had to cross the Mbagathi (Empakasi) river.


Olerai conservancy allows pastoralists to graze herds of sheep and cattle in a controlled manner to ensure that wildlife can coexist with the livestock


Children in the villages were just as interested in us as we were in them

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Molly meets a baby elephant on our one day off

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Patty on the suspension bridge


Adjani measuring grass recovery after the drought in a livestock exclosure

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Morgan and Hillary assess grass condition outside the park which was rather overgrazed

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Erin and others cross the suspension bridge in Kitengela to cross a dangerous gorge to continue our vegetation sampling.


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Antony Kasanga on German TV

Just days after returning from Oxford University, Antony Kasanga of the lion guradians blog was interviewed by German TV about his life, his community and his fight to save lions in his home area, on Mbirikani Group Ranch. Discussing efforts by the Masailand Preservation Trust, Antonys story takes viewers to a traditional Masai village, we meet his age mates,  many of whom would still like to kill lions.

 Antony Kasanga Lion guardians furadan masai lions

Antony’s story demonstrates how great his challenge is, to marry what he has learned from school with the wisdom of his community. At a meeting of the Menye Laiyok, the elders spoke to their soon to be initiated sons and told them that there is no longer pride in killing lions. Indeed it comes with a penalty of USD 200. As a junior elder, Antony spoke to the new recruits about the dangers of Furadan.

 Antony Kasanga Lion guardians furadan masai lions

Antony Kasanga Lion guardians furadan masai lions

The open air meeting took place under an acacia tree

I accompanied the film crew and talked about the role of the blogs in raising global awareness as well as much needed funding for conservation for people like Antony in rural and often dangerous places. We were told that in the course of the year over 1000 livestock were taken by hyenas, cheetah and lions.  Conserving these predators means they have to be of greater value than the livestock they kill, and the MPT is doing incredible work with the community of over 10,000 people on this ranch to find a peaceful co existence. You can read all about their success on the MPT blog here.

 reuben  masailand preservation trust, mbirikani ranch, wildlifedirect, antony kasanga

While we were at Mbirikani several animlas were killed by predators. We followed Reuben who is in charge of verifying the cause of mortality – he confirmed that this goat was killed by a hyena.

While at Mbirikani I came to realise just how far Antony has come. Born in a remote location and raised as a herder, he has learned how to use computers, and has made it all the way to Oxford. Antony still hold s his cultural traditions close and lives in a mud house on a goatskin mat.

 Antony Kasanga Lion guardians furadan masai lions

His fellow Masai  welcomed Antony  home from Oxford with much song and dance. These are the youngsters trying to achieve the spectacular jumps that the Masai are so famous for.

Please join me in congratulating Antony on his course at Oxford. If you are in Europe or have access to ARD please watch the piece on January 3rd.

We would like to thank Richard Bonham and everyone at the MPT who went out of their ways to make the filming a success.

Antony talks about Masai life and their sacred cows

Here’s a podcast that should put a smile on your face, plug in your headphone and let Antony from the lion Guardians entertain you!

Antony with more hair

Click To Play

Let us know what you think and  don forget to buy a Christmas gift certificate!

Magnificent Masai Mara – wildebeest migration in full swing

I’m back from an amazing 3 days in the Masai Mara. Apart from a rather irritating spate of punctures that took us to some amusing experiences which I wrote about on a blog called Afrigadget, it was absolutely spectacular.

We drove in from Nairobi along a road that could be described as Africa’s worst, and into a camp run by JK Safaris. Since the election crisis tourists have not returned in full swing even to the Mara which meant we had the entire tented camp to ourselves, and the most relaxed wildlife viewing  that I’ve had in a long time in the Mara. Instead of hundreds of cars there were tens.


Arriving in the park had particular significance as we’d just overcome a puncture that nearly ruined the trip.


Spectacular wildlife viewing – the migration is in full swing and the landscape was saturated with herds of wildebeeste, zebra, gazelle and other species.


After much “hmming” and bleating the first wildebeest leaped into the water setting off a frenzy of excitement amongst the crocodiles. The flow of the river was stronger than I’d imagined, causing them to drift downstream while they swam like crazy to get across to a safe landing point.


Once the crocs had one animal in their clutches, the othere were safe to cross. The sacrifice of one wildebeest seemed worth it – hundreds if not thousands made it across safely, bleating excitedly as they emerged .


Hippos avoided busy crossing points and rested a bit further upstream.


Our guide Moses claimed that hippos mate for 3 hours. It certainly seemed like a slow process!


Not just migration – the Mara is exciting


Dung beetle – with a massive ball


Wildlife seems tame – this stunning lilac breasted roller let us get very close.


Topi guarding his leking spot


Lazy lions



….and an uncooperative leopard


The best moment came last for my son Josh – he received a Masai name and  spear for his 16th birthday.

The challenge of saving the Mara comes closer to home after a special trip like this. Losing the area due to political fall outs in Kenya would be the height of stupidity and short sightedness by our leaders. Thank you all for your support towards the Mara triangle through Kimojino’s blog.