Like an elephant, a lion really makes me look at it; and I mean really look. Both carry their history outside as much as inside of their souls. They wear the scars of battle, the ravages of climate, and often the price of loves lost, and those won, out in the open like a tree; for those who need to know such things, to know such things. I’m often lucky enough to bear witness to many of the trials that these individuals go through. It’s impossible not to be proud of those who continue forward when lesser mortals might have given up. What’s tough is when one realises how fragile this strength can be in the hands of man. So it is for those I’m working with here in the Samburu. They continue forward with the very real knowledge that all they do; all they have done, can be wiped off the planet in the batting of an angry eyelid, a generation gone, a species gone, a gene pool gone. Sitting watching these magnificent creatures makes me realise how important it is to support those who are the very guardians of these extraordinary beasts. We must never forget that extinction is forever.
On assignment documenting the extraordinary work of Ewaso Lions @ewasolions who are working to encourage coexistence between people living on community land in northern Kenya, such as the Samburu, and all carnivores; not just lions, but also hyena, wild dog, leopard and jackals.
A fully grown Kudu bull, under a thorn bush, Samburu National Park, northern Kenya – the lion in this harsh environment have uniquely adapted to circumstance. It would be usual to see lion hunting in coalition, thus the success rate greatly increases, and the entire pride benefits from a successful hunt. However, in the harsh landscape that is the Samburu opportunities are rare and lion stand a much better chance of survival if they hunt individually, or in pairs. This puts much greater demand on lion, but the benefits when successful are great. Lion would also traditionally feed on a kill and then hyena, jackal, and vulture would move in to clear up. Once again the samburu does not offer plentiful food sources so the lion when they do get a kill will make every attempt to hide it from site and return to feed over an extended period. You’ll see a jackal in this frame scavenging off the kill; they are tolerated as their impact is small, others are not. So samburu lion drag the kill deep under a bush hidden from the sight of vulture, and remarkably remove the stomach contents which carry the most scent on the wind to hyena and leopard, and neatly cover it with dirt and branches, which is what you see to the right of the frame. The result, the lion can return to feed on the kill until it’s consumed the entire Kudu, it needs to hunt less, expend less energy in doing so, and stand a far better chance of survival in the harsh landscape that is northern Kenya.
In 2010, Ewaso Lions launched Warrior Watch, which protects lions by engaging Samburu warriors, a group traditionally neglected in conservation decision-making. Warrior Watch makes warriors ambassadors for lions within their communities, while raising awareness about conservation and advocating for peaceful co-existence with lions and wildlife. The programme builds on warriors’ traditional protection role by increasing their ability to mitigate human-carnivore conflict. The warriors serve as a network working across multiple communities, enabling us to monitor threatened species and record conflict incidents over a wide-ranging area. Ewaso Lions works with local community leaders to select Warriors and train them in wildlife ecology, conservation, human–wildlife conflict transformation, security issues, and more. Over time, Warriors are trained to collect data and use GPS, allowing us to map wildlife presence and movements – Following lion attacks on livestock, Warriors encourage herders not to take retaliatory action and help recover lost livestock. Warriors investigate problem animals and consider different solutions for reducing future livestock attacks. Warriors promote conservation and tolerance of carnivores at the community level by facilitating dialog about conflict and conservation. Each week, the Warriors meet as a group with Ewaso Lions staff to report on wildlife sightings, incidents of human-wildlife conflict, community awareness meetings, and livestock issues. In turn, Warriors receive educational lessons in English and Kiswahili and arithmetic, as well as a small monthly food stipend and meals during the weekly meetings.
Samburu women dancing at lmuget, northern Kenya, celebrating the warriorism of their sons – I’m here documenting the extraordinary work of @ewasolions who are working to encourage coexistence between people living on community land, such as the Samburu, and all wildlife, not just Lions – Samburu women are typically responsible for their household. Due to their role fetching firewood and water, maintaining the homestead and tending to livestock, they are central users and managers of natural resources and also frequently come into contact with wildlife. When elders and warriors are away with cattle during the dry season, women often remain within the village. Consequently, they often have to deal with human-carnivore conflict first-hand should a predator attack livestock inside their village at night. Yet, despite the important role they play, Samburu women have rarely been included in conservation activities in northern Kenya. Through Mama Simba, Ewaso Lions is now working with local women in a number of ways. They have a core group of 19 women. The ladies work closely with other women from their communities – spreading conservation message to their peers. They also now constantly report sightings of lions and even conflict incidents, increasing our network of informants – How ever fierce a warrior, he will ultimately return to his mothers side.
Lions benefit hugely from drought in the Samburu. Wildlife has to come down to the Ewaso Nyiro River to find what water it can from the dry river bed. At one point on the river the Ewaso is joined by the Isiolo River in which water remains even during the harshest of droughts. It’s here that Nanai, and Namanyak, two lionesses sit and wait for an opportunity to take advantage of those seeking water. However, this is the Samburu and it’s simply not as simple as that. What they have behind them is safe ground, their territory. In front of them, on the other side of the river is the territory of others and they would not be welcome visitors, so timing as always here is of the essence, and quite literally the difference between life, and death – I’m here on assignment for @geomagazin documenting the extraordinary work of Ewaso Lions @ewasolions who are working to encourage coexistence between people living on community land, such as the Samburu, and all carnivores; not just lions, but also hyena, wild dog, leopard and jackals. Here in Samburu those monitoring the movement and relaying the whereabouts of carnivores, are drawn from these communities, and thus the Moran have a very big role here. This follows throughout this region of northern Kenya; community engagement is vital if wildlife and human populations are to coexist at all, particularly in as complicated an environment as this which is prone to drought, flood, and tribal conflict.
Here in northern Kenya they are experiencing a severe drought, this following swiftly after the previous drought. Once more this is putting huge pressure on livestock and wildlife coexistence, particularly here in the Samburu National Park, which once again has borne the brunt of Kenya’s drought. However, the situation is greatly exacerbated here, downstream on the river, as farmers intensify irrigation upstream, often using pumps in secrecy; there should be no generator pumps in the river, especially during this drought period to protect pastoralists and wildlife downstream. In addition to this, Mau Forest which is the origin of both the Enkare Narok and Ewaso Nyiro rivers, is under threat due to massive deforestation. It’s estimated that the forest is losing around 20 trees per day due to illegal logging, this further threatens the livelihoods of those downstream. As if surviving in as complicated environment as this was difficult enough already !
Samburu moran (warriors) feast on livestock slaughtered at dawn at lmuget (ceremony) in the harsh landscape of northern Kenya. A lmuget is a Samburu ceremony where the presiding clan celebrate their ‘warriorism’ and finally step down, become elders, ready to celebrate the rites of passage of their children, and therefore begin the handover to the next generation. I attended this clans lmuget in 2013 – which marked the 5 year celebrations of warriors. I’m here again now watching boys I saw then, who have become men, celebrate a decade as warriors living in this harsh, hugely challenging landscape. I have to admit to being somewhat proud of this bunch of warriors; I’m not exactly sure what the future holds for them – Now I’m here on assignment for @geomagazin documenting the extraordinary work of Ewaso Lions @ewasolions who are working to encourage coexistence between people living on community land, , such as the Samburu, and all carnivores ; not just lions, but also hyena, wild dog, leopard and jackals. Here in Samburu those monitoring the movement and relaying the whereabouts of carnivores, are drawn from these communities, and thus the Moran have a very big role here, and this follows throughout this region of northern Kenya; community engagement is vital if wildlife and human populations are to coexist at all, particularly in as complicated an environment as this which is prone to drought, flood, and tribal conflict.
Samburu moran, lion beadwork, northern Kenya – Not only are large carnivores such as lions important to Kenya’s ecology, but low-density lion populations, such as those found in habitats such as samburu, but they may actually also be critically important to ensuring the long term survival of the species. At over 250,000 square kilometers this area represents a vast expanse of wilderness and one of the planets most important unprotected reservoirs of wildlife and biodiversity. It may also support one of East Africa’s largest unprotected lion populations. It’s vital if this population is survive at all in a landscape increasingly shrinking ahead of man ceaseless advance, that those who would wish to protect it, such as @ewasolions engage with, and receive the cooperation and support of those communities, who live alongside not only lion, but other carnivores too. I’m here documenting the amazing work; both wildlife and cultural of @ewasolions for @magazinegeo.