Four decades have passed since expert writer Brian Jackman saw his first wild lion but the memory never fades. “He was a big pride male in Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve, sitting on a termite mound on a cold, bright dawn with his mane backlit in the morning sun.
When he roared, telling the world he was lord of this land, each lungful of air condensed around him like dragon’s breath.” Brian later discovered he belonged to a pride whose territory encompassed the whispering reed beds of Musiara Marsh.
Big Cat Diary TV series and book: The Marsh Lions
His guide at the time was Jonathan Scott, the wildlife photographer and co-presenter of the BBC’s long-running Big Cat Diary TV series. The Marsh Lions, he called them, and that became the title of the best-selling book.
Brian followed the Marsh Pride over five years in Jonathan’s company, and what an extraordinary privilege it was to enter their world.
“Often, parked alongside the sleeping pride males far out in the waving grasslands, I would try to imagine what it must feel like to be a lion. Like me, they would have heard the wind in the grass and the distant yelp of zebra stallions. Many sensations we must have shared: thirst, hunger, aggression and fear. But what else went on behind those inscrutable eyes would forever remain a mystery.”
Lion relaxing in Masai Mara National Reserve. Image by Temisto Temistocle Lucarelli, collection of SafariBookings
Why do lions live in prides?
Studies carried out by the Serengeti Research Project suggest that protecting territory is the overarching reason – even more important than group hunting or the communal rearing of cubs. That is why territories are passed from one generation of lionesses to the next, and why they will fight tooth and claw to protect them.
That is also why the Marsh Lions have been such a successful pride, occupying a perfect location that provides all they need: plentiful shade, permanent water, good ambush sites and safe nursery thickets in which their cubs can be safely hidden.
Lion cub, in Masai Mara National Reserve, training his retrieving skills ;-) Image via Rockymiles, collection of SafariBookings
Lion population is dramatically decreasing
Tragically, lion numbers have been plummeting over the past two decades. Today there may be no more than 20,000 lions in the whole of Africa, of which only 3,500 are adult males. They are still doing well in a few places, notably in Serengeti National Park, which contains an all-time high of about 3,000. Numbers are also increasing in the private conservancies around the Mara, although the national reserve itself has lost 30 percent of its lions since 1992.
African Lion Population Map by http://lionaid.org
Preservation is key
Looking back to the days when Brian first followed the Marsh Pride we can see it as a kind of golden age for lions that has now passed into history. The current total of adult lions in the Mara and its adjoining conservancies lies somewhere between 200 and 300, divided into 35 prides of females and 18 coalitions of males. Yet there is still no finer place in which to observe Africa’s most emblematic carnivores.
“Who will speak up for the lion when my own voice is carried away on the wind?”
Those are the words of George Adamson, the grand old Born Free lion man of Kenya, and the answer is Lionaid, the UK charity working globally to fight the decline of the wild lion population. Lionaid is working everywhere to highlight the true plight of these magnificent creatures, campaigning to stamp out canned hunting, banning the import of lion trophies and educating the next generation to ensure there is a place for lions in the future. By supporting Lionaid you, too, can speak up for lions as George Adamson wished.
Want to see marsh lions up close?
A safari to the Masai Mara offers a good chance to see the famous marsh lions up close. Read this blog on Masai Mara Conservancies and visit our website for information on Kenyan safaris, as well as specific tours and operators to suit your budget and interests. SafariBookings helps you decide on the best Safari tour for your visit with over 30,000 customer reviews.