The Pride That Fell …
The hunting of Cecil, the lion, brought a lot of publicity to the wildlife of Africa. Reams were written and bits and bytes overflowed on the Internet. Outrage, defence, abuse, sorrow … The world is yet to arrive at a consensus. Is hunting the real solution to conservation issues or is it just a euphemism for the murder of creatures unable to defend themselves from the cruelty of man hiding behind technology?
Meanwhile, quietly, the other battles of the bush continue unabated, unresolved. The most critical war, i.e., human – wildlife conflict, continues to be fought. With the wildlife invariably losing each skirmish.
The latest tragedy is the poisoning of the Marsh Pride of lions in Maasai Mara. Some of the lions of this famous pride killed a cow belonging to a Maasai village. (This piece of news is edited. It was earlier thought that the lions had wandered outside the boundaries of the park. Now it appears that the cattle were brought into the park, illegally, that night!) In retaliation, the herdsmen poisoned the cow’s carcass and left it for the the lions to feed on. And die. A painful death. The scavengers feasted on both the carcass of the cow and that of the lions. And died. Vultures, hyenas and countless other smaller beings.
Already reports are pouring in. Here we share the perspective of Angela & Jonathan Scott of The Big Cat Diary fame to tell you the whole heartbreaking tale. They have been tracking this pride for years now. A pride that is almost family to them.
We all mourn the deaths of these magnificent cats and worry about the possible consequences to the species as a whole, the impact on the tourism industry of Kenya and the appalling callousness of the powers that be.
One group of people have been trying to fight this war for a number of years now. Jake Grieves-Cook was the visionary behind the creation of conservancies in Kenya. It is a model that has turned the tide for many animals in the Mara. He and a group of like-minded conservationists signed land lease agreements with the Maasai. These tracts of land are on the periphery of the Mara and provide a critical buffer to the main reserve.
Tourist numbers are limited strictly to allow a peaceful breeding ground for the animals. Camps in conservancies have to follow strict guidelines with regards to eco-tourism. The herdsmen do not graze cattle on this land for most of the year. In return they are paid ample compensation, provided employment, villages are provided with schooling, health amenities, drinking water, etc. The cattle are allowed to graze for limited periods along carefully selected paths. It is a win-win situation. And it has begun to show results.
While it is probably one of many solutions to this apparently un-resolvable issue, it IS a solution. More important, it is a positive step that has been taken to DO something.
Earlier this year, Jake had this to say …
Yet these tragedies continue to occur. We would like to share some of our pictures of this iconic pride taken over the last two years.
It was in August of 2013 we met the Marsh Pride for the first time. We spent many hours watching them eat, play, sleep not knowing then that we would visit them again and again. We would watch the cubs grow into sub-adults, the sub-adults become parents …
We read all through this year about Siena, one of the matriarchs of this pride being injured repeatedly. And how she had been treated again and again for her wounds. Normally there is no human interference allowed and nature takes its course. But lions are a severely endangered species and the wildlife service decided to intervene repeatedly. We were very fortunate to meet her in October this year – she walked past us, just a few feet away. Her wound looked painful but was definitely healing.
Now she is missing. Wildlife rangers have found remains of an adult cat and fear that it must be Siena. We can only pray that she is alive and well. Yet if its not Siena who died, another equally precious cat is dead. The loss is no less.
If there must be a fight for territory, then it should be fought on equal terms … Here one of the lionesses has a face off with a pack of hyenas that had managed to isolate her from the pride.
She won this battle. But has she survived the war?
If there must be blood and gore, then this is the kind that lions are meant to be involved in … being massacred by man is neither natural nor fair.
These graceful cats have a greater right to Maasai Mara than all the herdsmen, tourists, bureaucrats and trophy hunters. They are the true owners of the land. We have to give them the opportunity to re-lay their claim on this beautiful continent. To live in peace forever.
Note. This post has been edited thanks to one of our readers pointing out the latest update in information on the tragedy.
As per the earliest reports that came in, we had written “Some of the lions of this famous pride “left the boundaries” of the national park and killed a cow belonging to a Maasai village.” Since then information has come in that the cow was killed within the boundaries of the national park. The herdsmen had brought in cattle, illegally, that night.
It seems that somehow we have a hard time understanding that this one sphere called earth is something to share. A gift to maintain, not some freeware to treat without care.
If we don’t learn this real quick, there will be nothing to protect us from the wrath of Mother Nature. We have taken no heed of her warning growls so far.
Thanks Swati for this excellent report. Animals are so pressured by people…. we must do all we can to protect them. Kenya still has so much to protect unlike other places where it has all been lost. Thank you for your work. It means so much.
Yes David and that is what makes this more tragic. The people are so callous – the policy makers, specially, and those officials who could make all the difference are just letting this beautiful land go barren.
This has been particularly distressing for my family and myself. We have seen the Marsh pride and Siena and Bibi- the two lionesses who died, thrice. The first time they were hunting a buffalo. Siena was badly injured and Meshack our driver from Porini Lion Camp had to radio for help for a vet to fly in from Nairobi to save her. We were the only witnesses to the battle so we had a small part to play in saving her. The second time the pride was busy eating a buffalo they had killed before we arrived and earlier this year we saw them hunt a buffalo. Siena (in particular) was truly a special lioness. Totally fearless, she would lead the hunts herself and was instrumental in keeping together such a large pride by leading buffalo hunts. Most lion prides cannot provide for more than 4-5 lions after which they start fragmenting. With Siena gone I think the Marsh pride will have to move to smaller prey and the remaining members will be forced to split up.
Cats have nine lives but Siena ran out of her quota earlier this month.
Yes, we too have seen Siena and her pride over the last three years. Specially 2015 we have seen her hurt and hurt again and all the good that the vets tried to do her. It’s truly heartbreaking. While I can understand the fury and loss of the herdsmen, poison? What did the vultures do to harm them? And all the other little creatures? And is an eye for an eye our only answer as humans?
Just a precision : the lions did not “left the boundaries of the reserve” to kill the cow(s). The cows were grazing IN the reserve. The herders took a carcass, poisoned it, and came back latter with a car and left the poisoned carcass in the reserve, on the lion territory…..
Thank you for raising this point. I am re-checking my facts with Jonathan Scott who I do hope will reply ASAP. If there is any discrepancy, I shall edit the post accordingly.
I just found this first report from the Facebook page “The Marsh Pride of Lions”
7 December at 11:21 ·
We can confirm reports that some members of the famous Marsh Pride ingested poison on the carcas of a cow probably just outside the Masai Mara National Reserve on the night of Saturday 5th December 2015. Our guides immediately mobilised veterinary teams from the Kenya Wildlife Service and the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and a team of Rangers from the Narok County Goverment were quickly in attendance. One sub-adult male was treated on Sunday afternoon and one female, Bibi, died this morning. Our vehicles have remained with the affected sub adult male for the last 36 hours. We are still searching for 3 members of the Pride but since the Pride is so large and their territory covers such a big area it could be that they are perfectly well and holed up somewhere. The County Government Rangers have responded vigorously and professionally and apprehended 3 individuals yesterday evening. They are expected to be charged in Court in Narok today. In addition, patrols and mitigation measures have been stepped up. We will bring you more information as we have it. This pride is very special to us and we are doing everything we can to help
We would like to thank you for bringing this update in the news to our notice. We have edited our post. We truly appreciate our readers making the effort to not just read our post but also comment about it and caution us when required.
I am shocked to hear about the loss of the Masa pride due to poisoning by the local people. How many lions were lost in this? Hope some have survived.
Now the question arises how such incidents can be prevented in future. One thing is to educate the local surrounding villagers constantly. I am sure this is being done. What one could perhaps make them understand is that these are their animals and they, the people, should feel proud that lots of tourists are coming FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD to watch THEIR MAJESTIC BEINGS. Perhaps this sense of pride will help to prevent the senseless killings in future.
Two senior females are definitely dead. But data is still coming in. Fortunately some of the members of the Pride were treated in time. Four white back vultures also died for sure. There is no report on the numbers of other large scavengers and the smaller animals that feed off the carcasses and dung …
Amazing pictures and a great read. Thanks Swati. Your emotions are shimmering in the images and resonating in the words. I however am now getting to a place where I just do not know how to react! I remember my reactions to reading about the fate of the wolves that had strayed outside Yellowstone. It was visceral. Intense. Then years of seeing the same drama of man-habitat-animal played out in different places. Same story, just the actors keep changing – orangutans in Borneo, chimps and gorillas in Gabon, turtles in Sabah, our elephants in Bandipur! We too see tigers and leopards being poisoned by villagers after cattle kills. How do we ever fix this? More importantly – how did we GET to this? Why do we always want more? Those who have cattle want more, those who have land want more, more people want to travel to more and more remote places. No one wants to sit still, use less and give away. Were humans always like this or have we mutated to some horrible version of homosapiens? The Masai and Sholega and Kuruba and the villager had always lived alongside elephants and cats. When did the dialogue start changing? Was it when we `outsiders’ entered the picture? Did we unleash all the demons of wanting and owning and buying and wasting?
I have often felt that tourism plagues the wildlife far more than an occasional skirmish with indigenous people. In Mudumalai -Bandipur, on weekends the poor things just cannot cross the roads to get to the water. I saw an idiot trying to get a selfie with his back to an elephant! You should see the jeeps race to a sighting in Ranthambore! Its mayhem. Are these people not as guilty as the villager who strays into protected areas with his cattle? And most of them dont really care about the wildlife! They are just keen to experience what the rajahs, the goras or the rich have enjoyed – access to wilderness. So what if an animal has not been killed? Is not the daily unrelenting hassle a serious impact on the quality of life of the wildlife?
Anyways, I do not mean to say that this act was not absolutely cruel and vicious and unnecessary. No act of violence can ever be justified. I hope this `anthropocene’ era sees the end of only humans and we dont take the rest of the planet with us.
Swati, have you read `Thinking like a Mountain’? If only one could `Think like the Mara’!! Siddharth and you should write that and do a piece on the Mara…the land, the grass, and the animals and the breeze that blows over it all.
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Anu, you have said exactly what we feel. The sad part is that we have started the downside towards civilization and modernity so we need to provide the solutions to the problems of first worlding!
And one of the solutions is tourism with a conscience.
Yes, I have seen mayhem in the parks. At Bandhavgarh and Corbett. Here, in Kenya, we saw another idiot got out of the vehicle to pose – lying down – next to a marker board … Lions and leopards roaming free in the background! We have had vehicles honk at us in front of elephants and almost got trampled by them. We have seen tourists get drunk, throw lit cigarettes, shout and scream, abuse the locals on the grounds of race …
So we need education. Tourists need to be taught to behave, to understand that there are rules that need to be obeyed, that it could be the difference between life and death – for themselves and the animals. We need rules to be implemented stringently. Without corruption and greed.
We need people to understand that going on safari is not a bucket list tick off or a status symbol. It’s a form of livelihood for local populations! Most of all we need the local population to be integrated in the preservation of what little is left of the natural world.
We, personally, can only do our bit. Play by rules, support the efforts of the conservationists, teach the willing, try to educate the unwilling, lend a voice, share a picture. It’s very little and maybe not enough. But it’s what we have chosen to do.
If there must be a fight for territory, then it should be fought on equal terms
Someone should anthropomorphize the Maasai Community with an globally recognised documentary so that thay can be on an even keel with the lions 😛
I am not sure what exactly you mean. My understanding of “anthropomorphize” is “:to attribute human form or personality to”.
what I am saying is that the case for the animals has been made so much over and over again to the point that, in contrast to the actual humans beings in the story, they are the ones who have names, personalities, hopes and dreams that should matter to anyone.
Animals do have personalities, emotions and feelings. They do feel fear, pain, betrayal. Giving them names or not makes no difference to this essential truth. The actual human beings in this story are not just the Maasai, who for eons have lived in harmony with lions. The tragedy is the result of “modernisation” and the resulting imbalance in lifestyles. Every human being is a part of this story.
In the larger scheme of things, if we don’t learn that killing off nature is disastrous to our own survival, we will NOT survive very long. It’s a question of perspective. Are we looking at the next 10 years? 100? Our lifetime? That of our grandchildren?
Or are we willing to look beyond our limited current vision and think of the world at large, for the ages to come?
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The man vs Nature war contines every day. Floods, typhoons, earthquakes… Nature’s balance has been severely tilted. And man alone is responsible for it. And now by killing other creatures great and small, he is interfering with the food chain as well. Why are we as.a race slowly losing our sensitivity ? Why have we become less tolerant and more violent? the mara animals don’t deserve such treatment. After all we have taken away their home from them. people need to remind themselves that they are not permanent residents of earth. And every creature has as much right to be here as you and me!
What we have given up – and I do not mean lost! – is that most special of gifts given by nature to mankind. Common sense. We have lost our instinct, our sensitivity and all those animal characteristics. But our common sense we have given up in favour of greed.
Very sad, the travails of humankind…will we ever see light? Lovely photos, folks. Keep spreading the word……but my cynicism tells me that humans are the least humane of organisms on this planet…..and most corrupt…..where there is a buck to be made, saving a buck will not be allowed to stand in their way, pun intended. Suchitra
While we too are very cynical about human greed, we have no doubts at all about our inhuman attitude! Yet, if we just give up on fighting this war and accept ourselves as we are, is that quite right? Are we not, then, worse than merely greedy? We would be selfish and callous too. Is that not worse?