Meet the Lions of Nairobi National Park by Michael Mbithi and David Mascall

A majority of all people entering the park do not consider their tour successful unless they see some lions. This could be a lion under a tree, legs in the air doing what lions do best – sleeping, or it could be exciting as you witness a dramatic hunt. Whichever of these most people will not realize that these lions have intriguing social and personal lives.

The King fisher lions; there are 7 lionesses in this group although they are rarely seen together. They hang out in 2s, 3s, occasionally 4s and 1s and these groups interchange members, though there are a few who seem to be attached at the hip and are always seen together. These lionesses range from thePark Forest, King fisher picnic site, Lion corner down to Maasai gate, across to numbers 4, 5 and Hyena dam. This is the only group at the moment with cubs; 3 lionesses have cubs from 1 – 4 months and another is expected to give birth anytime. The ladies man – nicknamed the Mohawk, has been seen repeatedly around these lionesses although at times he is not welcome especially when there are cubs around. He has a 5 year old companion and they are often around King Fisher down to number 16 across lion valley all the way up to number 4.

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The Ivory site trio males (M1-Cheruiyot, M2-Sam and M3), who are often seen by the main gate, use the King fisher’s and most of the Middle pride’s area as their range.

The Middle lions; they are in 3 groups that bump into each other once in a while. The most conspicuous are nicknamed the ‘Ujonjo group’ since they often hang out with Ujonjo the 12 year old overthrown monarch of the park. They are an 8-9 year old lioness and her sub-adult litter (2.5 years) of 3 boys and 1 girl.

Ujonjo has to play hide and seek with his adult sons who overthrew him and hides out between Ruai dam, East gate area, Eland’s hollow and Hyena dam.

The second group comprises two adult lionesses – one younger, and one sub-adult lioness.

In addition there is a solitary lioness who lost cubs and was last seen mating with M1-Cheruiyot.

The Middle lions range from Hyena dam, Lion valley to Kambi ya Simba, numbers 4,5,6,7,8 and 9, Ruai dam, East gate  and the White grass ridge.

The Athi/Sosian lions; there are two groups that mix on occasion and are defined by two older lionesses 8-10 years. One of these lionesses is to be seen along the acacia woodland between hippo pools and cheetah gate, and around the Athi dam with her two -2 year old sons. The other lioness can be glimpsed from hippo pools, Sosian and Mokoyiet gorges up to Kambi ya Simba, with her two – 3 year old sons and two young lionesses who move between the two groups. We have seen them hunting all the way up to the middle ridge and Embakasi plains although the Athi basin and the area outside the park is their mainstay. They are all shy lions, retreating into thick acacia bushes when approached. To see them look into bushes along the road as you drive.

A coalition of 3 males (M4-Sandy -6 years, M5 -8-9 years and M8-Akhil -4 years) patrol the Athi’s range as well as the eastern half of the Middle pride’s range.

The biggest threat to lion conservation is community retaliation for livestock depredations outside parks.

The park’s lion population has not been spared in the past, with massive losses in years of prolonged rainy seasons when majority of the park’s lions follow the plains game that leave the park for long periods in favor of the cattle conditioned pastures in Kitengela, Isinya, the Athi-Kapiti and Kaputei plains, which are either settled or ranch land.

This calls for community education on the social, economic and environmental value of wildlife/lion conservation and community/public participation in conflict resolution.

A database of the park’s lions has been created with many forecasted conservation benefits. Although it is based on a June 2011 lion identification project we did, it is by no means static; it is a continuous database by virtue of wide public participation.

This means you.

Identification for the database is based on the use of whisker patterns (which are as individually unique as human fingerprints), permanent scars, tears on the ears and unique features such as cut or broken tails and mane size and color.

We nicknamed this initiative, ‘Lion Conservation by Fame’ which entails; making lions and their environment conspicuous to society, highlighting the individuals as identifiable personalities and not just random wildlife variables – making them household names, educating the public and especially the youth on the animals and their plight in a creative and captivating manner and creating forums for empowering public participation in conservation.

The Nairobi Park Lion Database is accessible to all and you can comment on sightings, social interactions, health, locations and behavior  by visiting; ‘Nairobi Park Lions’ or ‘Friends of Nairobi National Park’ groups on facebook, the KWS website and the Wildlife Direct website.


4 responses to “Meet the Lions of Nairobi National Park by Michael Mbithi and David Mascall

  1. Very useful information. Thanks to Michael and David. One suggestion: you mention many points and gates in the park. I have old maps of the park from my days there in 1971-73 and 1989-93, so I can find them, but it would be very interesting to see a map online, perhaps (now that graphic technology is so advanced) with pale colored overlays to show the territories of the various groups that you mention.

    Speaking of Lion Conservation by Fame, has anyone there ever read “Fly, Vulture,” the book written in 1961 by Mervyn Cowie, who was the person most instrumental in the founding of Nairobi National Park and was appointed as its first Director. He did exactly what Michael and David are talking about, overcoming strong opposition to creating the park and protecting lions by making lions he had come to understand and appreciate familiar to the public as individuals and personalities. I’m sure you can find the book in the library, it’s a good read. I was fortunate enough to meet Mr. Cowie in person near London before he passed away.

  2. Thank you for the comment and to all of you for reading this post. We have since designed individual lion ID cards with maps on each with black dots signifying where the said lion or its group were seen or reported during June 2011.
    The ID cards are on Nairobi Park Lions group on facebook with links on the FoNNaP page and will soon be in a database within WildlifeDirect.

    We are in the process of looking for funding to do a continuation basically focused on lion ranges, associations and lineage, depredation and wanderings outside the park, male interactions and mainly research geared towards a lion management plan because Nairobi Park is a great breeding site that is up to capacity with lions especially males – 9 adult males and 7 sub-adults. We have way too few lions in Kenya today between 1600- 1800 to stand by and watch nature or the community (during out-migration periods), control numbers.

    We need to use the excess to stock areas with habitat and poor lion populations while educating the communities and landowners in those areas and finding ways for them to benefit in terms of tourism from those lions. The park can become in its natural form, with focused management – (especially keeping the gene pool healthy and numbers sustainable), a source of lions and a secure restocking ground not only for Kenya but the region as genetics allows.

    It would be interesting to read Mervyn Cowies book and I will try and find it, as am reading Judith Rudnai’s book on her lion work in the park in the 60’s.
    Michael Mbithi

  3. Hey Michael! Hope you are well. Well done & thanks for bringing perspective to the Lion population in NNP. If my memory serves me right Jim Cavanaugh a great friend & inspiration named the old Patriarch – “Ujanja” (clever in kiswahili) & I guess he is being called “Ujonjo” – could this be a typo? Just check his identification cards to confirm. Also with 9 males in the park & NO new males coming from outside is anything being done in terms of management to avoid inbreeding? Is this something you will look into in the future? I hope you get someone like Jim to kept a constant record on these big cats. NNP has a fragile ecosystem as problems occur once the rains come – once the prey move out the predators follow! Keep us posted on any new events. Keep up the great work!

  4. Pingback: Outrage as KWS officers kill a lion with nine bullets |·

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