Lions on El Karama Conservancy
The wildlife experience on this private conservancy is exceptional. No day is the same and as a beautiful, diverse habitat with terrific ecological variety we see all but Rhino in this habitat currently. Predators are a common sighting and usually in any week with guests we will see Lion, often Cheetah and Leopard. Serval and Caracal are seen here but are far less common and illicit much excitement from guides when they manage to find one with their eager guests. With 14, 000acres of privately managed habitat to explore and each day bringing new experience to absorb, most of our guests spend at least 4 days with us ensuring the full compliment of sightings.
Laikipia is a unique region of East Africa, not simply for its impressive and globally recognised biodiversity, but also because of its innovative and holistic land use practices compatible to wildlife protection, which ensure that such a large habitat is well-managed and better able to cope to with the challenges of climate change, population expansion and the incroachment of development. Due to most of Laikipia being unfenced, large ungulates like elephant and buffalo can continue their migrations in search of adequate graze and browse despite disruption in other parts of the country. Predators can also move freely choosing the safest and most productive environments for their survival both in terms of feeding prey and breeding.
We are all incredibly fortunate to be able to still see such iconic species ranging over thousands of kilometres largely unfettered - it's hard to imagine what other part of the world functions in this way and what other regions in the country offer such diversity and security to wildlife, birds, trees, insects and plants. The challenges to these mostly pristine environments are multifarious, but tourism entities such as this can play a very useful role in generating revenue, research and knowledge in their day to day activities.
The Lion population on El Karama is currently healthy and relatively balanced with large herds of up to 400 buffalo to feed off successfully. The pride, when together, are now reaching 26 individuals in 2019. This month the groups have split off into smaller parings. Yesterday on my way to a boma in search of rich sheep poo to feed my organic vegetable garden, we made our way through the centre of the conservancy. The red oat grass is long now having received an extreme amount of rain, up to 1 metre in 8 hours just north of us, in December. As the gloaming light settled into the pink and silver hues of an early dry season evening, my daughter - only 4 - picked up movement at a little water hole. There here, almost completely camouflaged by her beautiful tawny fur, a lioness crouched in the sandy loam soil, shoulders bulging and taut with muscle, drinking long great laps of water. When she was sated, she walked unbothered by our presence past our car and up the track. Her soft loping gait belying her speed, the black tips of the back of her ears and the flicking knot of fur showing always her senses alive and almost palpable. She may have had her back to us as we followed, but she knew exactly where we were and presumably that we were not a threat to her evening perambulations.
As we came over the rise she turned and found a warm spot bathed in sunlight and lay down. In the side mirror of my land cruiser we spotted a further two males approaching: one with a strange bald pate on the top of his head and the other bedazzling with his huge, bushy dark black grey mane.
These experiences are what sets a place like El Karama and Laikipia apart from the rest. Wildlife truly wild, comfortable in their habitat, no other vehicles in sight, no sounds but the soft chirp of crickets in the evening air and the distant bark of an impala alarming.
This conservancy has teamed up with a conservation and research organisation called Lion Landscapes to collect data on lion through the use of smart GPS technology and photographic IDs. Although we are not involved in collaring projects at this lodge at this time, we are able to track Lion here on foot and in vehicles using our knowledge, communications and digital radio technology. We take ID photos to help us identify and understand each individual better. All guests who visit El Karama Lodge have the option to take part in our wildlife monitoring activities.
Our newest conservation activity is our Lion Experience, a half day, mostly on foot and sometimes in vehicles dedicated to learning all we can about lion, humans, livestock and eco system balance and how it all works together.
Guests leave camp early in the morning in the company of our trained Lion rangers and with a knowledge guide from our lodge to ensure a full of minds and eyes! They head out to the mobile boma, where the livestock sleep at night safe from the predators, to meet the conservancy herdsmen and learn about how we holistically manageme of livestock and other wildlife compatible activities alongside predators such as a Lion. Guests can watch the cattle emerge from their corals and follow them on foot into the bush, learning how to herd and crucially how to avoid conflict with wildlife. Guests then carry on tracking through the open plains, looking for scat and tracks to analyse and hopefully finding predators to photograph and ID, also taking counts of all other wildlife for the rangers along the way.
(A short training precedes this experience where the lodge guides show guests what kind of photos they will need to take of predators to ensure full and useful ID photographs that can then be added to the archive for educational purposes. ) The walk can extend over 11kms following the key areas where we know lions live on El Karama and finishing with a fresh picnic by the river to digest all that they have learnt. Perfect for active guests and possibly with teenagers in their midst who want to stretch beyond the shorter walking activities we offer here...
These wildlife conservation activities are part and parcel of the lodge experience and guests can directly contribute not just to the wildlife monitoring projects, but they can also use their own cameras to collect ID photos for our programme and feed into our archives.
If you are interested in adding this special activity to your trip, please contact us to book it in.
To find out more about Lion Landscapes you can visit their website www.lionlandscapes.org