Over the past month or so at Governors’ Mugie House, lions have been at the forefront of wildlife interactions. Most nights, you wake up to the unmistakable sound of roaring, which feels as if it’s happening right outside your door. With a very healthy lion population, Mugie has been an enthralling location to experience one of Africa’s greatest icons.
Youngsters and a dominant male from the Gaby Pride – photo credit Harry Blakey
It’s a very interesting time in the lion community on Mugie Conservancy. The activity and politics of these apex predators has been particularly high and I have been extremely fortunate enough to witness some of it. There are many different factions of lions in the area and this creates an interesting dynamic.
The conservancy consists of three established prides and one ‘breakaway’ coalition of young males. The three known prides are Gaby, Esmi and Walimu, which are all named after a collared female in each group.
Members of the Gaby Pride on Mugie Conservancy – photo credit Harry Blakey
The largest pride and the one that the guides and rangers are most familiar with is the Gaby Pride, formerly known as the Mara Pride. Not so long ago, this pride was up at 22 individuals, with 5 sub-adult males who were driven out of the group at 3.5 years old and were never seen on Mugie again. Today, the pride is seventeen individuals strong and still growing, with one of the younger females recently giving birth to three cubs.
The Gaby Pride are the largest pride on Mugie Conservancy – photo credit Felix Rome
The new mother is currently spending time away from the pride, allowing them to grow and become a little stronger and wiser, before introducing them to the others. Sadly, she has lost one and although we don’t know how or why, they had a risky encounter with some buffalo very early on in their lives, which they managed to escape. In the meantime, the lionesses’ mother, Gaby, has been supporting her by taking care of hunting duties whilst the cubs are still dependent on their mother.
The new mother nurses her newborns – photo credit Harry Blakey
Taking a rare moment aways from her young cubs – photo credit Harry Blakey
Seventeen is a considerable number for a lion pride as it is and with the numbers of the pride on the rise, it’s inevitable that there will be members that begin to breakaway. The dominant males are keeping a close eye on the young males and as soon as they are seen as a threat, they will be swiftly expelled from the group. Having spent a lot of time with this pride, it feels as if this division is already underway as we are seeing them in smaller groups more and more often.
One of Mugie Conservancy’s dominant males – photo credit Harry Blakey
The Walimu Pride is less-known than the Gaby Pride. Previously referred to as the Akimat Pride, they consist of around 12 individuals and this is the second largest pride on the conservancy. Walimu (meaning ‘teacher’ in Swahili), is a female lion that has recently been collared in order to track the activity of her and the rest of the pride.
A lion from the Walimu Pride – photo credit Harry Blakey
She is aptly named as she has been teaching the rest of the pride how to hunt cattle, which presents its own set of challenges. Mugie Conservancy is a working livestock ranch with over 3,000 cows, hence managing the relationship between wildlife and the community is critical to the success of their sustainable rangeland and community conservation model.
Mugie Conservancy combines sustainable conservation, productive rangeland management, community cooperation, responsible tourism and much more – photo credit Felix Rome
Tracking data that is provided by GPS enabled collar allows the team in the control room at the conservancy’s headquarters, to monitor the pride’s movements and notify the herders where the lions are and therefore which areas should be avoided. Lion collaring plays an important role in reducing instances of Human-Wildlife Conflict not only in Kenya but also across eastern and southern Africa.
Lion tracking provides invaluable data concerning the pride’s whereabouts at any particular time of day – photo credit Fernando Faciole
The Esmi Pride is much smaller than the others with only three individuals consisting of Esmi herself and her two daughters. They are incredibly shy and are rarely seen at all. However, we recently spotted them completely by chance during one of our game drives. They appeared out of nowhere and were in fact chasing a leopard who had made a recent impala kill.
Esmi’s daughters – photo credit Harry Blakey
The leopard dragged the kill up a tree, leaving the three lions waiting anxiously at the bottom. Esmi and her daughters eventually gave up and moved into a clearing where they relaxed in the evening sun; this was our opportunity to get closer and observe them for a while. Initially, they were slightly apprehensive but became calmer the longer we were there. This was a significant breakthrough as this pride usually avoids vehicles and had not allowed this kind of interaction until that moment. It was amazing to be able to spend some time with them and take a few shots as well.
Lastly, there is a newly-formed coalition of four nomadic males. They have proven to be particularly elusive as I only managed to see them once in six weeks. Too young to challenge the dominant males of the other prides at this moment in time, I believe the dynamics will soon change – once they have grown and developed a bit more, physically.
Males reared together often form a coalition in their early years – photo credit Harry Blakey
Male cubs are rejected from a pride at around three years old and will be nomads until they find and take over a pride of their own. In a couple of years from now, these young males will become a real threat to the current dominant males on Mugie Conservancy and it’s exciting to think what may unfold in their lives ahead.
What makes Mugie so special is that, with all of these sightings, I was often the only person at a sighting. It presented me with a great opportunity to spend some quiet time with lions in their natural habitat and observe their fascinating behaviour. Getting close and having these personal and intimate wildlife interactions, with very few other vehicles present, is incredibly unique to Laikipia as one of Kenya’s most exclusive safari experiences.
The Laikipia region of Kenya offers a real and pristine wilderness experience, off the beaten track – photo credit Harry Blakey
‘Lion prides and predator dynamics on Mugie Conservancy’ is written by Harry Blakey, resident photographer for Governors’ Camp Collection, Kenya. To book a safari with us, please email firstname.lastname@example.org