Ewaso Lions is 10 years old! In honour of our tenth anniversary, here are some of our stories and highlights:
Ewaso Lions was founded by Shivani Bhalla in 2007. Originally, Shivani explored northern Kenya in her Suzuki, looking for lions and investigating their habitats. Her vehicle was her home, office, and kitchen. From Shaba to Samburu to Westgate, Shivani and her Suzuki travelled, in drought and in rain dedicated to finding an answer to her question – can lions and communities live alongside each other?
Seven Years of Tent Collapses
Our home base has changed over the years. In 2008, we set up a small camp in Westgate Conservancy, using some old tents to make a basic kitchen and office. One solar panel powered a bulb in the kitchen, and otherwise our light left with the sun. Nighttime visitors such as hyaenas and genets often destroyed or invaded our kitchen. Water was fetched in a wheelbarrow and climbing hills was the best way to get phone signal and internet. At the mercy of the elements, when the weather turned windy or rainy the camp tents would collapse and when the drought hit, water was hard to come by. We spent seven years here.
In 2015, we built and moved to a permanent, eco-friendly conservation camp! The camp sits high on a hill, affording us incredible views of the stunning Samburu landscape. We have a well, a water pump, a satellite dish, and fourteen solar panels! The technological updates allow us to work more efficiently. We are so grateful for the support of Westgate Conservancy and the funding we received through the Wildlife Conservation Network, both of which have allowed us to build our beautiful new home.
The Force of Jeneria
After moving to Westgate Conservancy, Shivani approached the Conservancy Warden, and told him she was looking for help with her lion research. He told her to go to a specific hill at a specific time, and she would find help. There he was! A young, smiling 19-year old Samburu warrior appeared before her. At first, Jeneria was shy and quiet. Now, he is a fearless leader. In 2010, Jeneria created Warrior Watch. The best way to save Samburu’s lions was to engage the warriors.
Warrior Watch now consists of 19 warriors, all of whom work tirelessly, discouraging other warriors from killing lions, engaging communities in conservation on a daily basis, attending difficult conflict incidents between lions and livestock, and collaring and tracking lions. Under Jeneria’s leadership, the Warrior Watch team is a remarkable and formidable force for conservation in Samburu.
In 2007 and 2008, we searched for lions in community areas. Could lions live in areas with larger human populations? After two years of asking this question, we found a lioness. At exactly 6:30 PM, in the conservation area of Westgate Conservancy, Magilani prowled out of the bushes. We studied the foliage, expecting a pride, but none appeared. We quickly learned that lions were successfully living in community areas by living alone. Magilani would creep out of the safety of the bushes late each day, and was careful to return before the sun rose at dawn. Magilani means ‘solitary,’ a name the community chose because the lioness was always seen alone. Magilani became the lioness ambassador for the project- famous throughout the region. Community members often asked us how she was doing. The bushes she originally crept out of are now known as ‘Magilani’s Bush.’
In 2010, we feared the worse when Magilani disappeared. Amazingly she returned in what was for us a hallmark moment – with two male cubs! This meant that it was possible for lions to breed successfully in community areas.
On a sweltering Kenyan election day in 2013, a lost, limping, and bedraggled pup found his way to our camp. Exhausted and malnourished, his paws were worn-out. His owners had moved away permanently, and left the dog to fend for himself. Jeneria gave him some water, beginning a strong friendship between the two. As he recovered, Kura, which means ‘vote’ in Kiswahili, quickly found his place in both our camp and our team. His favorite place to lounge in is on our viewing deck, and he loves joining in as the warriors sing and dance. He is bat-eared, slightly nutty, and rather protective of us, and we can’t imagine camp life without him. Recently, a new team member arrived in camp, a puppy with such lovely eyes that she was named Nanyori, meaning ‘green.’ Green is a special colour to people in Samburu, because it signifies life!
“Strong and Brave”
Loirish, which means ‘strong and brave’ in the local language, was a spectacular male who moved to Samburu with his brothers in 2008. He chased off the old males, fathered many cubs with resident females, and became a famous, iconic lion throughout the region.
In September of 2013, Loirish and his brother Lguret killed many camels in communities near Samburu. As a consequence Loirish was shot dead. Our team was devastated. The team members care deeply about each lion, and Letoiye, a field officer who used to monitor Loirish, was particularly upset. His lion had been killed. Loirish’s death sparked an expansion of Ewaso Lion’s warrior activities in new regions, including the one in which Loirish was killed. Today, he lives on through our warriors’ protection of lions in his old territory.
“The Impossible is now Possible”
Local women from nearby villages were eager to get involved in conservation. They approached Ewaso Lions, and asked for conservation training and education. As a response, we launched the Mama Simba programme in Westgate Conservancy in 2013. In the programme, local women are taught the knowledge and skills needed to reduce their environmental impact, improve their livelihoods, and drive coexistence between humans and wildlife. The Mama Simbas now protect lions with pride, bravery, and a sense of ownership.
In 2017, Mama Simba, Munteli Lalparasaroi learned how to drive. She is the first woman from a village in the region to do so. She now has her own Suzuki, and drives around monitoring and tracking lions, attending to conflicts, and educating other women. Munteli is an inspiration to many other women, who say seeing her drive around makes them feel that ‘the impossible is now possible.’
The “Joyful one”
Nashipai, which means “the joyful, beautiful one” was the first lioness that we monitored in Samburu. She was a confident mother to many lions, and a fantastic hunter. We watched her grow up here and age gracefully. In May of 2017, she died at 16.5 years, making her the oldest lioness in the region. Her legacy is large: she left behind several daughters, including well-known sisters Nanai and Nabulu, and their cubs. All are resident lions in the Koitogor Pride of Samburu, a pride we have known since 2002.
Nine-Year old Naramat
Nine-year old Naramat (“the caring one”) was born in the Samburu Reserve in 2008. However, she moved outside the community a few years later. This concerned us: could she survive outside the safety of the protected areas? Amazingly – yes. Naramat has shown us how lions can live alongside people, especially when communities tolerate their presence. She has since given birth three times now, which her most recent cubs born this April!
Naramat is now the ambassador lioness of this community landscape. Everyone works hard for her safety. For the last two years, we have often heard her and other lions at night, and their voices remind us that lions are feeling safer in Samburu. Previously, lions were quick to pass through populated areas, as their proximity to people was a huge risk. Naramat is a great example of coexistence between people and lions, which occurs when communities are engaged in conservation and feel ownership of the lions. We are so grateful for the community support we receive.
Over the past 10 years, Ewaso Lions’ team has grown four to thirty-eight! As the threats to lions are increasing, we are using our proven community and research programs to enhance human-lion coexistence in more and more areas. Warrior Watch has engaged a group previously neglected by conservation efforts: the young Samburu men. The programme is improving community attitudes towards and tolerance of carnivores, and is socially and politically empowering the warrior demographic. The Mama Simba programme is giving Samburu women a place and voice in conservation. Our Lion Kids Camps are educating and inspiring a new generation of conservationists. The Jeremy Lucas Education Fund is sponsoring 11 Samburu students in school and university, creating new custodians of wildlife. Our lion population is now stable and we have more lions living in community areas than ever before.
Find out more about the nature conservation organisation here: Ewaso Lions