Born Free is working closely with Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) to safeguard the future of a pride of lions called ‘Elsa’s Pride’. The pride is named in honour of Elsa the lioness who successfully returned to the wild in 1958 by conservationists George and Joy Adamson, and featured in the classic film and book Born Free. Virginia McKenna OBE, Co-Founder and Trustee of Born Free, says: “This beautiful family lives in Kenya’s Meru National Park, where the real Elsa was returned to the wild and where she was buried.”
Kenya is home to some 2,000 wild lions with around 60 living in Meru, one of Kenya’s best-known national parks. The park has a diverse landscape including dense vegetation, forests and savannahs with long grass, rivers and swamps. It attracts many species such as elephants, leopards, hippo and a wide variety of birds. For this reason it is a popular destination for game drives and research projects. KWS monitor the park’s wildlife and habitat, including Elsa’s Pride – one of the oldest prides in Meru – to ensure they are protected for future generations to enjoy.
Lions are protected inside the park but sometimes stray outside, causing problems for local communities and their livestock. Tim Oloo, Born Free’s Kenya Country Manager says: “With our help communities can learn to tolerate lions. Born Free’s education and outreach activities are geared towards the message of co-existence.”
The average age for a wild lion is 10 -14 years, and a pride will typically consist of two adult males with around six related adult females and their cubs. Elsa’s Pride currently has two ‘alpha’ male lions called George and Moja – aged about eight years, together with three adult females, two sub-adult (aged around three years) females and various cubs. As the pride grows, some members will separate to form a new pride. Young males usually leave to find their own territories and recently three sub-adult males left Elsa’s Pride and now live and prowl the park together. Amazingly, lions spend most of their time resting and being inactive for up to 20 hours a day!
Brothers George and Moja tend to walk as a pair and dwell with the family within the Mugwangho Plains. Shockingly, in 2015 George had a narrow escape from death when he got caught in a snare. During a patrol, he was sighted pulling at a tightening wire noose around his neck and had to be rescued with the help of a Born Free team. Sadly, illegal hunting for ‘bushmeat’ is a big problem in Kenya and in recent years Born Free, working together with KWS, has removed nearly 2,000 snares, apprehended several poachers and successfully rescued many trapped animals in Meru.
Like all lions, Elsa’s Pride are fearsome predators, with the adult females doing most of the hunting. As they can only sustain fast runs for a short time before tiring, they work as a group, stalking and getting as close to their prey as possible. The pride’s favourite meals are zebra, gazelles, buffalo and water buck, which are in abundance in the Meru wilderness. Incredibly they have even been seen to take down a giraffe. Born Free is constantly learning more about the pride’s behaviour. Oloo adds: “One unique character is that the females love climbing trees, especially the tamarind, along River Rojawero – but we have yet to understand why they prefer this particular tree!”
With your help, Born Free is supporting KWS as they monitor and protect these important lions in their ancestral home.