The answer as to why this should be lies in the name, Olare Motorogi, which in Maa, the language of the Maasai, means ‘the place of salted earth’. Unusually high in nutrients, this rich brown earth produces an exceptionally lush type of grass, which attracts an unrivalled density of herbivores. And, in the wake of the herbivores, come the predators – the lions, cheetahs, leopards and hyena. The grass also grows into dense thickets along the riverbanks, thus providing ideal cover for hunting lions. Finally, such is the level of security provided by the Conservancy that the lions have come to regard Olare as a place of sanctuary in which they can enjoy optimum health and safety.
The Conservancy has a number of prides, all of which are regularly seen by our visitors, and one of which has established itself in an area just down river from our camp. Each pride features a complex hierarchical structure that is ultimately dependent upon the maintenance of dominance by the males. This, however, can be affected by all manner of outside influences, such as the fights that occur between rival prides and the injuries sustained; also by the arrival of strong new young males who occasionally arrive from beyond the boundaries of the Conservancy and force the resident males to fight for their territory and their prides. Nothing remains static for long in the life of the Conservancy’s lions but their power struggles, mating and litters provide endless fascination for our guides and guests alike.
The Oldikidiki Pride, which has established itself in an area just down-river from our camp, and often sleeps so close to the camp that their coughing can be clearly heard in the tents, is led by two exceptionally powerful males known as Olbarnoti (the fringed one) and Oloolparpit (the brave one). Both have magnificent dark manes, which indicate their health and maturity.
This, our ‘local pride’, has four females and eleven cubs, ranging from just four months in age to one year. The females share the rearing of the cubs and can often be seen playing with them, early morning or evening, on the banks of the Ntiakitiak River. Guests are also often lucky enough to find the lionesses and cubs enjoying a fresh kill while the males look on. Typically it is the lionesses that make the kill; they also assist the cubs in feeding by using their harshly rasping tongues to lay bare the flesh. Then, when the lionesses and cubs have eaten their fill, the two male lions will come to partake of the feast. Later the entire pride will sleep, often laying on their backs with their soft cream-coloured stomachs exposed.
Olbarnoti and Oloolparpit are also the dominant males for another pride, the Isiketa Pride, which numbers five females and their seven sub-adults and three cubs. Elsewhere in the Conservancy there is the Sankaai Pride, which numbers two males and six females. These males have not yet been given names but are known as the ‘Croton Males’ because they are often found taking shade in the iconic orange leaved croton bushes that typify the Conservancy. The Sankaai Pride has 11 cubs ranging in age from six to eight months. The Conservancy also hosts a number of young lionesses that have broken away from the Sankaai Pride but do not, as yet, have cubs. Finally there is the rather more elusive Motorogi Pride, which has two males and three females.
Big cat research
The specialist lion preservation agency, Living with Lions is currently working in cooperation with the Maasai community to observe the prides of the Conservancy and new information as to their hierarchy and behavioral patterns is constantly being revealed.