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Rafiki's story

The first time that the Mara Predator Conservation Programme encountered Rafiki was in early 2016, and we estimated that he was born in 2012. He was together with his brother and companion Karibu, and they were with the Marsh Breakaway pride. We named the duo the Kitchwa Tembo males, as we first sighted them in this area of the Mara Triangle. They left the Mara Triangle later that year and crossed the Mara River, ending up in the Musiara area where they took control of the Marsh pride. Here, they sired cubs with the Marsh females. In early 2017, a sub-group of the Marsh pride left the Marsh area for a spell with four cubs, two males and two females, and ventured into the Leopard Gorge area of Mara North Conservancy (MNC).

Rafiki late 2018, before leaving MNC
Rafiki dead in a snare

Rafiki and Karibu eventually followed them in May of the same year but did not seem interested in spending much of their time with their pride. Instead, the Cheli pride of MNC caught their attention and the duo quickly took control of them. Rafiki and Karibu sired cubs with the Cheli females and all seemed to be peaceful. This lasted until Karibu was found severely injured close to the MNC airstrip in October 2018. Before this sad event took place, a male coalition of two, who we named Lenkume and Pilipili, were lurking around MNC. These two males could have been responsible for Karibu’s injuries, but we do not have any evidence to support this. Sadly, Karibu died from his injuries. Shortly after this, Rafiki was chased away by the new males and disappeared for a long period of time. He later made brief appearances in the Reserve and Olare-Motorogi Conservancy (OMC), before suddenly showing up in Lemek Conservancy. This is where he met and befriended Lenkume, the same lion who had earlier chased him away from MNC after Karibu’s death.

Lenkume's story

Lenkume and his brothers, Pilipili and an unnamed male, were born into the Olololo pride (Angama pride) in 2013, and we had our first sighting of them when they were still cubs. After the brothers dispersed, we lost track of them. In early 2018, we saw Lenkume and Pilipili for the first time since their dispersal, without the third brother, close to the MNC airstrip. They were with a Cheli Breakaway pride that we named the Buibui pride, after the area where they had taken up residence. After this sighting, the duo disappeared again. It seems that these two males had come into MNC by crossing the river from Olosukut Conservancy. Lenkume had a very characteristic nose scar and rangers from Olosukut Conservancy said that they saw a male lion fitting this description with a partner. During their first MNC appearance, Rafiki and Karibu were the pride males of the Cheli and Buibui prides. Later in 2018, we saw Lenkume and Pilipili again in MNC and once again they were with the Buibui pride. It was around that time that Karibu was found with his injuries, and we assumed that he was trying to take back the Buibui pride from Lenkume and Pilipli but failed.

Lenkume as a large cub with the Olololo pride
Lenkume dead on a snare

After Karibu’s death and Rafiki having been chased away, Lenkume and Pilipili also took over the Cheli pride north of the main road (who we now call the Serian pride) and had cubs with them as well as the Buibui pride. In August 2017, four males made their way into the Offbeat area of MNC and took control of the Offbeat pride. We identified the males as being born into the Iseketa pride in OMC. This powerful coalition started to move northwards towards the core Cheli pride, around the same time Karibu was killed. Until June 2019, the Iseketa males controlled the south side of the main public road through MNC and Lenkume & Pilipili controlled the north side. Eventually in June 2019, the four Iseketa boys pushed their way further north and collided with Lenkume and Pilipili. Pilipili was badly beaten up and he later died from his spinal injury. Lenkume vanished shortly after this and the Buibui pride, with cubs sired by Lenkume and Pilipili, took cover in the neighbouring Lemek Conservancy to hide from the new males. After a long period of staying out of sight, Lenkume reappeared in Lemek Conservancy in the second half of 2020, where he found and reunited with the Buibui females and his offspring. To our astonishment, Rafiki also appeared in Lemek Conservancy, where he teamed up with Lenkume who had possibly killed his brother and chased him away from MNC, and he tolerated the youngsters of his former rival.

Rafiki and Lenkume both had fascinating stories from taking over the Cheli groups, each losing their coalition partner, disappearing, teaming up together and then finally losing their lives in snares. For this reason, their needless deaths in the hands of poachers has made it even more heart breaking to witness. Without pride males to protect the females and their young, it is likely that the neighbouring Lemek pride males, who are the five Sankai males from OMC, will take over and evict or kill the large cubs of the Buibui pride, giving yet another blow to the Mara lion population.

We have documented the soap opera which was the lives of Rafiki and Lenkume through the intensive monitoring work conducted by MPCP’s research team. This is a very time consuming and expensive exercise, but it is essential to document population trends and collect data on threats faced by predators in the Maasai Mara so that this can be used for evidence-based conservation management decisions.

Click below to support the ongoing research and monitoring of predators in the fragile Maasai Mara ecosystem.

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