By Tory Shelley
Recently, the Ruaha Lion Guardians team took a trip into Ruaha National Park for an all day game drive in hopes of seeing lions.
The park is a mere 20km away from the village land where the Lion Guardians operate so it is very possible that the lions in the park could be the very same lions that create the tracks and sign that the Lion Guardians find and document.
This was the first time some of the Lion Guardians had been inside the park in a vehicle and purely as sightseers (two had been on a park trip once in the past provided to pastoralists by the Ruaha Carnivore Project). This was very exciting and we were lucky enough to see wild lions that day three different times! The first encounter was with a large older male lion who was sleeping in the shade of a tree. He let us watch him for a while as the Lion Guardians piled onto the right side of the car to get a better look.
The Lion Guardians were very excited as they had never before just watched a lion from a close distance, especially without a spear in their hand. Later that day we came upon a female with an older cub and a sub-adult, all resting in the shade of a tree on the edge of the then dry Ruaha riverbed. Again, the Lion Guardians piled onto that side of the car to get better look and discussed the health of the lions and commented that the lions looked strong.
Then, as we were driving back toward the entrance of the park, Lion Guardian Darem pointed out the window and said “Ngadida” (lion in Kibarabaig) under his breath. Sure enough two lions, a male and a female, were walking steadily through the tawny dry grass about 30 meters from the car. We would have just driven by as the lions were well camouflaged, but Darem’s trained eye spotted them right away.
We were fortunate enough to see many animals that day including elephant, zebra, giraffe, buffalo, kudu and countless other species. But we were particularly lucky to see the lions! This peaceful interaction with wild lions is a crucial aspect of the Lion Guardians experience as most of them have only had exposure to wild lions in the context of tracking and hunting them. As the Lion Guardian program here in Ruaha does not yet include placing radio collars on the lions which would allow us to locate them with telemetry equipment, this intimate time with wild lions inside of Ruaha National Park is critical to the experience and training of the Lion Guardians. Continue to follow our adventures here in Ruaha and support the Lion Guardians hard work!