Drama in the Mara!

Lion in a blanket?
Lion in a blanket?

By Anne Kent Taylor

 

“As in human populations, territorial  “punch-ups” frequently occur in the Animal Kingdom.   On January 17th, 2014 , in Kenya’s Masai Mara,  two lion prides tangled over their territorial rights, and a kill, resulting in one three month old cub becoming separated from her mother and pride.  One would assume that this was an automatic death sentence for this cub – but not so! A few days later, she was spotted by Governor’s Camp head driver, Moses, cowering in a wild gardenia tree….that way , keeping safe from the attentions of roving hyena clans which would have killed her in a nano-second.  She clearly had a very strong sense of survival and hope was restored that she could perhaps survive if she was reunited with her family. Alas, the following day she had disappeared  again and everyone’s concern was evident as to her fate.  Nevertheless, The Governor’s Camp team spent hours in the field trying to find her again and miracle of miracles they spotted her once again on January 24th- still alive and healthy!

The Anne K.Taylor Fund team leader, Elias, managed to contact the  local  Kenya Wildlife Service vet’s assistant, Felix, who is supported by the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust( whom we have assisted with many an animal rescue). In turn he contacted Governors Camp manager, Patrick Reynolds who had been monitoring the situation closely since the cub went missing.  Decisions were hard to make as the odds of survival were questionable.  The cub alone would surely not have survived as it was still milk dependent and without the protection of the pride it would have been easy pickings for any passing carnivore – or indeed some of the herbivores which would have taken great delight in killing a lion, their enemy – but if it could be returned to its mother and pride,  it may be rejected  as it would be covered with human scent. In our opinion,  it was worth a gamble!

In agreement with the County of Narok rangers it was decided to attempt a rescue.   Felix drove for many miles to meet up with Patrick and Moses – at which time the cub had gone missing yet again! (Rescues of any sort are never easy as wild animals go where they please!)….finally just before dark she was located again and the rescue began. As you can imagine,  after a few challenges in “capturing” the cub in a blanket, (!) she was released near her mother – and immediately bolted into the bushes and the outcome was not certain.    As it was now dark the team had to leave the pride and hope against hope that the cub would not be rejected by the pride or her mother.

Lost cub up a tree — photo by Moses Manduku
Lost cub up a tree — photo by Moses Manduku

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At first light, the team returned and joy! Joy!  the cub and her siblings were all together with their mother and it is, for now, a happy ending.  I wondered aloud why the lioness would not have gone looking for her missing cub . Patrick put it into perspective for me “Anne, he said, lions cannot count ” !  Thus one missing cub probably went unnoticed….I had never thought of that concept before but it made me even happier that the rescue was successful and the cub was back in the pride with no thanks to her mother!  Only the strongest survive in the wild!

Back with mum
Back with mum

My personal thanks go to all who were involved with the rescue of this lion cub – the compassion shown by Sheldrick’s Felix and his KWS associate were noteworthy.  For them, it is not “just a job” but a  passion and a commitment. Without the  perseverance of Patrick Reynolds, head guide Moses and other  Governor’s Camp staff  this cub would not have had a chance of survival.  It now will grow to be an integral part of the Masai Mara ecosystem, perhaps helping to ensure the very survival of this threatened species, without which Africa would not be the same.  I cannot imagine an Africa without the roar of these magnificent animals with which we have the privilege of sharing this earth.

My sincere thanks to Will Fortescue for these photographs and to Moses Manduku of Governors Camp.

Stuart Pimm is the Doris Duke Chair of Conservation Ecology at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. He is a world leader in the study of present day extinctions and what we can do to prevent them. Pimm received his BSc degree from Oxford University in 1971 and his Ph.D from New Mexico State University in 1974. Pimm is the author of nearly 300 scientific papers and four books. He is one of the most highly cited environmental scientists. Pimm wrote the highly acclaimed assessment of the human impact to the planet: The World According to Pimm: a Scientist Audits the Earth in 2001. His commitment to the interface between science and policy has led to his testimony to both House and Senate Committees on the re-authorization of the Endangered Species Act. He has served on National Geographic’s Committee for Research and Exploration and currently works with their Big Cats Initiative. In addition to his studies in Africa, Pimm has worked in the wet forests of Colombia, Ecuador and Brazil for decades and is a long-term collaborator of the forest fragmentation project north of Manaus, Brazil. Pimm directs SavingSpecies, a 501c3 non-profit that uses funds for carbon emissions offsets to fund local conservation groups to restore degraded lands in areas of exceptional tropical biodiversity. His international honours include the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement (2010), the Dr. A.H. Heineken Prize for Environmental Sciences from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (2006).

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