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  • Writer's pictureLion Landscapes

Mini's journey, a highlight from 2021

The WhatsApp message "Do you know these lions?" accompanied by a photo, is not an unusual question. What is unusual is to recognise a lion instantly, and without doubt, by his face. Normally it takes a process of checking and double checking whisker spot patterns, and any other distinguishing marks, before a positive ID is confirmed. But Mini's, which mean 'short ear' in the Maa language, is different. He has a strange and unique face with particularly small ears, and when our partners at Ewaso Lions sent through his photo in July this year, we recognised him instantly. With that recognition, Mini's and his 2 brothers were confirmed to have arrived in Westgate (in Samburu) having left Loisaba Conservancy (in Laikipia) over a year before.

Mini's in Westgate Conservancy. Picture by Ewaso Lions.

The excitement over this news was palpable. As the crow flies, it is not an extraordinary distance - 80 km - a lion could cover that in a few nights. The arrival of these 3 young male lions in Samburu was exciting because it meant that such a journey is still possible - lions can still move between Laikipia conservancies, which support abundant lions, and the community conservancies in Samburu. This 'connectivity' is important for the genetic health of both populations, and for the persistence of lions in community conservancies. Maintaining connectivity in the Ewaso ecosystem is a goal Ewaso Lions and Lion Landscapes share. Growing villages, increasing infrastructure and livestock densities all make dispersal for young lions seeking new territories increasingly difficult. Collar data from lions navigating this landscape help us to identify where passable routes still exist, and target our conservation programmes that facilitate coexistence between people and lions in these areas.

Mini's is an unlikely hero. While his two brothers accompanying him are typically big, powerful Laikipia lions, Mini's is smaller than most, and his tiny ears and slightly shorter legs make him look distinctive different. When he was a cub we worried that he might not survive because he looked so small and disadvantaged. We rooted for him but tried not to get too attached, expecting to hear that he had died or been killed by another lion, but instead he survived to make an inspiring journey.

Life ahead for these 3 lions will be full of challenges - a coalition of 3 adult male lions is not easy for a pastoral community to coexist with - but right now they are a beacon of hope for lion conservation in the Ewaso ecosystem.

Read Ewaso Lions account of this story here.

Mini's (left) and one of his two brothers (right) after arriving in Samburu from Laikipia's Loisaba Conservancy. By Ewaso Lions.


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