The CLAWS Conservancy started “Pride in Our Prides” in 2014 as a response to devastating poisoning events that killed up to 50% of the local lion population. Since the start of our program, poisoning has stopped completely and not a single known lion was killed in 2016. With the relative stability of the lion prides, we have seen new growth- 17 lion cubs born to 5 different females! A key to our success has been community engagement in our monitoring efforts. The communities have named the lions, the receive alerts when the collared lions approach the villages and see photographs and videos during community presentations. It is this connection that has increased community tolerance in the face of continued and increasing conflicts.
During a trip to the field in July, I found one of our collared lionesses “Mayenga” (meaning ‘Decorated by the Gods’), her pridemate “Mamalapo” (meaning ‘lady of the floodplains’) and their pride male “Gombo” (named for the region of his territory). This pride has had its challenges in recent years. When we first started our program, Mayenga and Mamalapo had 6 cubs. By the end of 2015 they only had two subadult females from those litters. Those females are now reproductive age and will soon contribute to the pride. However, our tracking in 2016 yielded visuals of both Mayenga and Mamalapo mating with Gombo. By November of 2016, we were able to confirm that both Mayenga and Mamalapo had given birth. Mayenga had two cubs and Mamalapo had three. Life for lion cubs is hard. During relatively good times the survival rate in 50%. When we caught up with Mayenga in August, it appeared that she and Gombo were very cozy. She was even showing some flirtation by flicking his face with her tail. This is unusual for a female that has young cubs and it is likely that she lost her two cubs. Mamalapo, however, has 3 strong cubs that are voraciously feeding on meeting. When I met up with them, the pride had killed a zebra and once Gombo was done the cubs had their turn.
Our monitoring program, coupled with community outreach, are key components of our lion conservation initiative. You can not have one without the other. By following the lions, we learn whether our efforts are succeeding. By sharing the stories of these lions we bolster tolerance while promoting livestock safety and ecosystem health. It is our hope that these cubs can grow up in a world where people see them as a natural part of this system and not a threat.