Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Hunt for African Lions Continues

Sorry for the silence, lion friends.  A combination of internet problems and sneaky lions have kept us away from the computer.  As it stands we were trying to find male lions to collar.  Little did any of us know how hard this would be.  If female lions are sneaky, then male lions are sneakier.
For days we have been riding the rough, red dusty roads of Mpala and the North country in search of males.  We are discovering that the classic concept of lion “prides” is not so straightforward in Kenya.  Males are sometimes with other males, females are sometimes only with females.  Youngsters stay with mom, and adults males can cruise all around.   All of us are bruised and banged from massive ruts and gullies in the road as we criss-cross lion territory.   

Our task has been even harder with the spring rains.  New foliage has sprung up overnight.  The grasses are taller, all of the thorny brush have sprouted leaves, and wild flowers have popped up everywhere.  It is beautiful but the plants have had several effects on the wildlife.  

First, the favorite prey of lions can find food everywhere.  There is no need to hang around watering holes as easy targets for lions.  Instead the antelopes, zebras, and giraffes walk around the Kenyan countryside eating plants that are blooming right beneath their feet (or hooves).  Even the elephants are out in fields lazily picking up flowers by the trunkful and stuffing them into their hungry mouths.  Times are good in Mpala, Kenya if you are an herbivore.

Times are also good if you are a carnivore- the dense foliage has given the lions infinite places to hide.   It is far too dangerous to search for lions in the dense brush.  Only a fool would step foot in country like this.  A lion could be just around the next acacia tree.

But our vigilance and persistence has paid off.  The first sign that we are on the right track – was literally the right track.  There in the sand on the side of the road was a lion print.  In that moment I realize that this African lion is a REALLY BIG cat. 

The pawprint of a housecat can fit in the toe print of this lion.  Steve our lion tracker, tells us that this is just a female print.  It is enough to make one gulp out loud.  How much bigger could a male lion print be?

Slowly edging our LandCruiser into the brush, we follow the prints and the direction of the trampled grass to find the owner of the print.  Then just around the corner, beneath the arch of a prickly thorn bush is a rustle o leaves….