Kenya once held some of the biggest lion populations in Africa, numbering over Twenty Thousand individuals in the early 1970s. But thirty two years on, in year 2002 the figure had drastically dropped to Two Thousand Seven hundred and forty Nine individuals. The country had lost about 88% of the total population in a span of thirty years! In 2009, the Lion population had further dropped to number slightly above two thousand individuals.
The Kenya Wildlife Service in conjunction with various stakeholders have listed various factors for the population decline which included: climate change, loss of habitat due to human development, disease and a high incidences human human-wildlife conflict. In an attempt to recover some of Kenya’s treasured lion populations, several measures have been put in place including Policy change, Enhanced security in all the Parks, reserves, private and communal ranches in the Kenyan rangelands and partnerships with local communities to enhance the protection of the majestic African cat.
The Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya hosts a third of the total lion population in Kenya. Here, we have the biggest lion density than anywhere else in the world. There are about 700 lions in the Mara, occupying an area measuring 1510 km². In line with the measures to intensively protect the remaining lion numbers, every one individual counts and plays an important role in the survival of the whole population.
When the Mara Mobile veterinary unit was informed of an injured Lion in the Mara, we rushed there to ascertain the report.
For a lion to have a meal, it must stalk its prey stealthily, outrun them and pounce on them at the right time and the right places. On this occasion, this particular pride comprising four young adult males and more than seven females had successfully managed to kill an Eland. Elands are Africa’s largest antelopes; a full grown adult bull can weight anything between 400-900 kg’s. It was no easy job killing an Eland and this was demonstrated by the fact that one of the lead male Lion was left nursing a serious injury on its underbelly sustained from the sharp horns of the prey and the omentum was left hanging out. On assessment we concluded that a veterinary surgeon was urgently needed to stitch the wound and return some of the protruding organ back into place.
The Kenya Wildlife Service Veterinary Department quickly provided a Veterinarian who was immediately booked by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust on the next available flight to the Mara. The Vet arrived at four in the afternoon, and immediately went down to business. The lion was successfully darted and went recumbent twenty minutes later.
The surgery took slightly over an hour and by the time we were through it was already getting dark. The other pride members did not in any way try to attack us despite our proximity to them. We were actually working next to their kill and 10 meters from where the other pride members were having an afternoon nap! We concluded that the other members clearly understood and appreciated that we were only out helping their kin who was wounded and in pain.
On being revived from anesthesia, the lion walked slowly to where his brother was waiting. That was one of our happiest moments because we had saved a member of a pride whose genetic diversity is all needed in the wellbeing of the entire population.
To each and everyone who contributed in whichever small way to this save this lion we at the Mara vet unit, say thank you to you all. We value and appreciate everyone’s support and roles in making this unit a success.
Micheni Felix- Mara Vet Unit.