Ruaha Carnivore Project – Updates from the Field

By Wandering Maasai | 14 July 2014

By Amy Dickman – Ruaha Carnivore Project Director

Amy Dickman shares the latest news from Ruaha National Park with us below, outlining the challenges faced with operating in the remote vastness of the park, as well as highlighting the excellent work being done by the Lion Guardians and Livestock Guard Dogs. She also shares some fantastic big cat photos taken by guides and visitors to Ruaha.

Snared lioness treated in the Park
Poaching is a major conservation issue across Africa, and unfortunately Ruaha is no exception. Recently, the carcass of a male lion was spotted in the Park, and when the Park officials investigated, they found that he had been snared. A lioness was staying close to the male, and it soon became obvious that she was also entangled in snare wire. The Park officials and veterinary team reacted quickly, and managed to dart the female and remove the snare wire. Although she had some serious injuries, she was treated and recovered well from the anaesthesia, even managing to eat an impala later that evening.

We suspect that snaring – both for local meat consumption and sale to other markets – is a big issue around Ruaha, but it is very hard to learn about, as it is very secretive. This is something that we are planning to research more over the coming year, so that we can understand exactly why people are doing it, the impact that it has on both carnivores and prey species, and then develop the best strategies for trying to reduce it.


The lioness immediately after the wire was removed by the Ruaha National Park team – the blue patches show where wound spray has been applied.

Challenges for the livestock guarding dog programme
Our livestock guarding dogs are still doing well, and are now approaching a year old. To date, they have been fed high-protein pellets, which was excellent for ensuring they grew well, but the pellets are imported, hard to get hold of and very expensive. In order to make the programme sustainable in the long-term, it is very important to switch the dogs over to a more local diet. We have started trialling different diets, and initially we wanted to use maize porridge (ugali) mixed with fish, milk and occasionally meat. However, we learned that amongst the Maasai, eating fish (or even handling or cooking it) is often considered taboo, so most of the families would not consider using that. Instead, we are introducing a mixture of ugali, peanuts, milk and meat, and will also add nutritional supplements as needed. This diet is nutritious and affordable for the pastoralist families, but not all the dogs have taken to it well – Shujaa in particular is not eating much of it so is losing some weight, and we are monitoring him closely.

It has become apparent that all the dogs have lost some weight in the past couple of months, and we think this is because in the dry season, the livestock are taken out further to find good grazing, and this is quite taxing for the young dogs. We are working with all the families to ensure that the dogs get regular rest periods each day, receive enough food in the field, and have at least one full rest day a week. They are so large that they seem to the villagers like full-grown dogs, but it is important to remember that they are still young and are not yet able to go out all day every day. The programme is going well, but it highlights how carefully it all needs to be monitored in order to adapt it best for the local situation, both in terms of cultural beliefs and herding practices.


Shujaa and some of his charges enjoying a drink of water

Two lion hunts stopped by Lion Guardians
Predator-proofing bomas (livestock enclosures) and using livestock guarding dogs are both important methods for reducing depredation and therefore retaliatory carnivore killings. However, some carnivore killings have a cultural element, so that young men can prove their bravery, and this is where the Lion Guardians (LG) programme comes in. In partnership with the main Lion Guardians organisation in Kenya, and Panthera, we have employed and trained young warriors as Guardians around Ruaha in order to intervene and prevent lion hunts that they hear of in the community. This programme had further success this month, when two lion hunts were stopped by the Guardians.

In the first instance, two adult and two sub-adult lions approached livestock during the night at a Barabaig boma, and the men from the household went out to try to hunt them. Kiro, one of the Guardians working in that area responded very quickly and went to meet with them. He talked with the warriors for several hours and eventually persuaded them to give up the hunt, and everyone returned home with no lions being killed.

On another occasion, a single female lion killed two sheep in front of a 15 year- old herder girl. She sounded the alarm and a group of Masaai and Barabaig men scared the lioness away from the sheep and then started to track it. Matias, one of the local Guardians, heard about the incident and went to meet with the group. He managed to talk them out of trying to kill the lion, while two other Guardians (Samora and Julius) arrived soon afterwards and helped remove the sheep carcasses to ensure that no poison was set out after they left.

True conservation heroes: The Guardians who stopped the recent lion huntsKiro, Samora, Julius and Matias

Although we have had some teething problems adapting the Lion Guardian model to the situation around Ruaha – as local young men here can be very suspicious of any outside intervention – it seems to be working well, and we are now keen to expand our LG zones further across the study area. Promising new Guardians are now being interviewed, with the hope that they will start work in new zones within the next couple of months.

Simply amazing – carnivores in their natural habitat
Over the past month, RCP staff members have captured some fantastic pictures of lions and other species in the Park. It is always lovely to see these animals, as it reminds us what all the hard work is about – doing everything we can to help secure populations of large carnivores, so that future generations can also experience them out in the wild. Sean McEnery, the Ruaha Lion Guardians manager, took some of the Guardians on an educational trip into the Park, where they were lucky enough to spend time watching a lion pride comprised of three adult males, three adult females and a very playful litter of cubs. The cubs were practising their hunting skills on the lioness’ tails, although they seemed less than impressed with the tastiness of the resulting meal!


The cubs spot their intended prey…… © Sean McEnery


Both manage to successfully catch their prize…… © Sean McEnery


But it is less rewarding than expected! © Sean McEnery

Monty Kalyahe, one of our senior research assistants, has also been in the Park working with the lodges and camera-trapping, giving him the opportunity to take some great photos of large carnivores.

A young female lioness – we can tell that she is young as her nose is still mainly pink, and it will change to black over time, reaching >50% black by around 6 years old. This is a fairly reliable indicator of age in wild lions, but interestingly does not seem as reliable in captive lions


In contrast, this male is clearly over six years old – his nose is totally black, his teeth are yellowed, his mane is receding and he has several scars from fighting

Meanwhile, the Park drivers are continuing to collect wonderful photos and data on carnivore sightings, so that we can learn more about carnivore distribution, group size and ecology across the landscape. Recently, Lorenzo Rossi from Asilia Africa’s Kwihala Camp shared some of his photos with us, and they really highlight the value of the Ruaha landscape and its large carnivore populations. Thanks to all the drivers and tourists who submit photos and work with us – it is extremely valuable and we really appreciate it.


This striking image shows that life can be challenging for both predators and prey in the vast Ruaha landscape © Lorenzo Rossi


This young leopard seemed perfectly happy to let people watch him while he was relaxing in a tree ©Lorenzo Rossi


This beautiful image shows a brother and sister cheetah approaching the Great Ruaha River for an evening drink © Lorenzo Rossi

About Amy
Amy has worked in carnivore conservation for 16 years, and in 2009 established Tanzania’s Ruaha Carnivore Project (RCP), located in one of the world’s most important and inaccessible wildernesses. The Ruaha area is globally valuable for threatened carnivores, but Amy discovered that lions were being killed there at a rate unmatched anywhere else in Africa.Over the past five years, Amy and her team have worked with many thousands of local people to reduce conflict and improve the situation. They have helped people better protect their livestock, developed extensive community healthcare and education initiatives to demonstrate tangible benefits from carnivore presence, and have built significant capacity and awareness through employment, training and education.

If you are interested in reading more about the Ruaha Carnivore Project or would like to see more of Kwihala Camp please click on the highlighted links.

Edits: Since the publishing of this piece, we have opened another property in Ruaha called Jabali Ridge.

The post Ruaha Carnivore Project – Updates from the Field appeared first on Asilia Africa.


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  • How do I choose between Kenya or Tanzania?

    If you have more time available for your holiday, the bordering countries of Kenya and Tanzania can easily be combined with each other as well as with other nearby places like Uganda, Rwanda and Zanzibar. If you are going on a shorter trip (less than 10 nights is a fair guideline), choosing which country to enjoy will depend on what you want to see and do. For example, if you’re planning a migration safari, your destination of choice will be largely dependent on where the wildebeest are at your chosen time of travel.

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  • What are meals like on safari?

    Meals on safari feature wholesome homemade dishes with a hint of local flavour. We take great pride in growing our own fresh, organic produce wherever possible and supporting local communities.

    Our camp chefs are able to cater to any dietary requirements with advance notice, including preparing gluten free, dairy free, vegan, and halaal meals.

    Lunch is usually a buffet featuring fresh salads and meaty mains, while dinner is a 3-course meal served beneath the stars. Dishes feature beef, chicken or fish, and wholesome organic produce with a hint of local spices and flavours. You can read more about Asilia's culinary experience here.

  • What is the accommodation on an Asilia safari like?

    Most of our camps feature stylish and authentic tented suites in keeping with the classic safari experience. Each tent has a main bedroom with a shower, toilet and basin, decorated to reflect the local cultures while providing the necessary amenities and furnishings to provide a comfortable retreat. Do not worry about packing in shampoo, conditioner, body wash, or lotion - these are all provided for you in camp.

    Please note, all laundry in camp is done by hand and dried outdoors, therefore turnaround time is dependant on the weather. Out of respect to local culture and customs, we do not wash underwear. Washing powder is provided in all of our guest rooms should guests wish to wash their own.

  • What is included in the price of my safari?

    The overall cost of your safari can vary depending on a range of factors including seasonality, activities, any special offers that may apply as well as other factors.

    Generally, a safari at Asilia’s properties will cost you anything from USD $450 per person, per night, and upwards. Your accommodation costs are all-inclusive, which means that all meals, local alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, and game drives with our expert guides are included.

    For a more accurate estimate, it’s best to contact a safari specialist travel agent who can package an itinerary to suit your needs and budget. Alternatively, you can get in touch with us.

  • Can I book my safari directly with Asilia?

    We handle our booking process through a trusted group of highly experienced East Africa safari experts. We operate this way due to there being many nuances involved in planning a well-arranged, unforgettable safari holiday in East Africa. We know through experience that this is simply the best way to ensure our guests enjoy a seamless trip matched to their individual needs. Due to the volumes handled by these agents, they’ll also ensure you get the best possible overall price. If you’re thinking of joining us on a trip to East Africa and you are not currently working with an agent, simply enquire on our website and we’ll arrange for the best agent matched to your needs to tailor-make the ideal itinerary to suit all your needs.

    If you're unsure whether to book far in advance or not, this blog post may help provide some clarity.

  • How do I get from the airport to your camps?

    Getting around in East Africa requires significantly more planning than other destinations. Distances can be large; roads may be few. Our safari experts know their way around and can arrange all the transfers you require.

  • What are the vaccination requirements?

    Certain vaccinations may be required for travel to Africa, for example, often you will need a yellow fever vaccination. To be sure, consult your travel agent and your local Travel Clinic to obtain the latest health travel advisories. Concerning Visas, your travel agent will help there too.

  • What are the visa requirements?

    Kindly consult your relevant embassy for full details of visa requirements. Please indicate clearly that Asilia Africa is the DMC / ground handler and not the address of first overnight stay.

    For addresses and telephone numbers please visit our "contact us" page and either use Kenya (Nairobi) or Tanzania (Arusha) information depending on which country you are visiting.

  • What are the points of entry to get to your camps?

    For International visitors, the following apply:

    Kenya: Nairobi
    Tanzania: Dar es Salaam or Kilimanjaro Airport

  • Help! I’m planning my first safari. Where do I start?

    One way to start researching is by reading up more on the different safari destinations to visit, such as Tanzania or Kenya.  We also have some handy tools to help you along, including our camp finder and our experiences page. Another great place to draw inspiration from and to whet your appetite is by browsing our list of itineraries. These can be booked as-is, or customised to suit your needs.

    We recommend talking to a specialist East Africa consultant who will assist you with your plans.  In addition, they’ll be able to arrange your transfers, flights, and any additional activities you require. If you do not already have an agent, simply enquire with us and we’ll put you in touch with one of our trusted East Africa specialists.

    Find out more about what to expect on your first safari with us here.

  • Can I still go on safari if I have special medical needs?

    A safari can be suitable for a wide range of ages and physical conditions. With advanced notice, our camps are capable of catering to certain special requirements, so it’s best to advise your travel specialist early on in your booking process.

  • Are safaris suitable for people in wheelchairs?

    Some of our camps are accessible by wheelchair. It’s best to chat to your consultant as they will be able to advise which of our camps with be most suitable.

  • What do I pack for my holiday?

    There are a few handy items you won’t want to forget when going on safari such as a hat and sunblock to name a few. However, it is important to note that certain light aircraft transfer flights will have a smaller and stricter luggage limit. Please note, all laundry in camp is done by hand and dried outdoors, therefore turnaround time is dependant on the weather. Out of respect to local culture and customs, we do not wash underwear. Washing powder is provided in all of our guest rooms should guests wish to wash their own.

    Do not worry about packing in shampoo, conditioner, body wash, or lotion - these are all provided for you in camp. You can read our recommendations on everything from clothing to photography to toiletries in this blog post.

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