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Goodbye to the Queen of the Triangle

At one time the leader of a pride 14-strong, her reign has sadly come to an end. Adam pens a tribute to the indomitable Mama Kali
Above: Mama Kali in all her glory, captured by Robert

She was a legend in these parts. The Queen of the Mara Triangle: Mama Kali, the collared lioness. Even without a name attached, her reputation swept across the golden grasslands. A fearless leader and matriarch of the Angama Pride, there is little debate that over the last decade she was the most photographed lioness in the Triangle. As the sun would rise above the Loita Hills, throwing light across the scene of ‘Out of Africa’, so her roars would echo off them — a reassuring greeting of a new day. She was respected, she was revered, and she was adored. 

Sadly, she is no more.

She was a formidable huntress and fierce mother Photo: Tyler Davis

Aptly named, Mama Kali — a Swahili word meaning fierce or strong — had a fiery streak. When the grasses started to get long and hunting became a challenge she would move north and west, up the Oloololo Escarpment, leading her pride beyond the formal boundaries of the Mara Triangle and into the grazing lands of the neighbouring Maasai. Here, she could not resist an easy meal and had a habit of killing goats, sheep and cattle. It was for exactly this reason that she was collared back in September 2020. The collar would allow her every movement to be tracked and monitored in an attempt to keep her safe, help in human-wildlife conflict, and ultimately allow researchers and park management to learn more about the life of a lion whose territory doesn’t observe the neat boundaries of the reserve.

Last month, it appeared as if she killed one cow too many. 

Cattle grazing and wildlife are often interchangable in the Mara Photo: Adam Bannister
Predator-proof bomas (or stockades) are an attempt to diffuse conflict Photo: Adam Bannister
The Mara Predator Conservation Programme collaring Mama Kali Photo: Adam Bannister

In early February 2022, her collar stopped transmitting a signal a few kilometres north of the park — we feared the worst but hoped for a miracle. Perhaps the batteries had run out, or the collar had fallen off, maybe she had swum across the Mara River and the electronics had flooded? Ranger teams were sent into the area to scour the landscape. Nothing. 

She was a constant presence in the grasslands below Angama Mara Photo: Adam Bannister
Mama Kali was often seen relaxing in a tree Photo: Adam Bannister
Tree-climbing was a unique skill learnt by her and the Angama Pride Photo: Tyler Davis

Days turned to weeks. Still no sign of her, nor any other members of her pride. We searched every corner of her territory. The dew-covered grasslands were empty, they held nothing but rumours. Where had she gone? 

Mama Kali was dear to us all. I clearly remember seeing her for the first time back in March 2018. Back then, she had a large pride laden with cubs of various ages. This pride kept visitors from across the world enthralled. Over the duration of her life, we as a guiding team have spent countless hours with her. She taught us so much about lion behaviour. Normally, in the Maasai Mara, it is the males who carry big reputations and are awarded iconic names: Scarface, Morani, Notch, Olorpapit — the list goes on. Very seldom does a lioness take on legendary status. 

The Angama Pride thrived, delighting us with cubs of all ages Photo: Adam Bannister
A great mother, Mama Kali raised many cubs to independence Photo: Adam Bannister
She had many suitors, and had given birth again just weeks before she died Photo: Eric Averdung

Her death was confirmed last week, exactly a month after the last transmission from her collar. Her body was found by rangers who had set out intent on solving the case. We will never be able to say with certainty the reason for her death. However, it is highly likely she fell victim to human-wildlife conflict. 

Her ever-watchful gaze across the plains will be missed Photo: Adam Bannister

Her devastating death highlights the critical need for all of us in the conservation world to work together with the communities that neighbour protected areas. We simply cannot manage an ecosystem as an island. As animals move in and out of these wilderness areas, a process of natural migration and dispersal, they will continue to encounter an ever-growing human population. Now, more than ever, we need to explore creative solutions on how we can all work hand-in-hand for the protection of animals and humans alike. 

Rest in peace Mama Kali Photo: Eric Averdung

Today, the Mara community weeps for her loss. Largely, because it doesn’t appear to be a natural one. Her death is significant and at this stage, it looks as if we may have lost her entire pride along with her — in addition to her recent litter of cubs. We are buoyed by a recent report of a single lioness, in the heart of Angama Pride territory, seen briefly running into a thicket. Is it possible there is a surviving member of this pride? Is there a chance that Mama Kali’s genes may live on? We can only hope.

Filed under: Stories From The Mara

Tagged with:

Lions of the Mara , Maasai Mara , Wildlife , Wildlife Photography

About: Adam Bannister

A South African-trained biologist, safari guide, author, filmmaker and photographer, Adam is, above all else, a gifted storyteller. After spending the past 10 years working in some of the world’s most beautiful wild places – the Sabi Sand Game Reserve in South Africa, Rajasthan in India, Brazil’s Pantanal, and the rainforests of Manu National Park in Peru – he is delighted to share his stories of one of the loveliest game reserves of them all, the Maasai Mara.

Browse all articles by Adam Bannister Meet the angama team

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Join the Conversation (8 comments)

Comments (8):

Kenneth Alexander Mcallister

15 April 2022

A cow are goat here are there shouldn't matter she has to eat and feed her pride

    Charlotte Ross Stewart

    19 April 2022

    Hi Kenneth, you're right she had a big responsibility in feeding her pride. Mama Kali and the rest of the Angama Pride were exceptional hunters and would often take down prey as big as a buffalo in the protected reserve. Sadly cows and goats are much easier prey and the temptation was too great. For many living around the reserve cows and goats are the equivalent to our savings in the bank. This is where their fortunes lie and for an animal to go missing is a disaster for them which could mean their family goes hungry. It's not an easy relationship, but there are a number of organisations helping to alleviate the tension between the wildlife and the communities who live next to it.

Naran Arjan

18 March 2022

Feeling sad about mama kali..brilliantly written and sensitising of need to conserve the wild life.the earth is home of many we cannot be greedy.

    Charlotte Ross Stewart

    22 March 2022

    Hello Naran, indeed the earth is home to many and we are so lucky to live in such a wild corner of the world. However, many of our neighbours struggle with this as there is little protection for them and their livestock against the predators who call the Mara home. We are working with a number of conservation groups and companies to provide better infrastructure to these communities and to educate them on the importance of wildlife and how to coexist peacefully with it.

janine milne

18 March 2022

why would mama kali have lost all her pride? the new cubs i can understand as they were only a few weeks old (did someone find their bodies?) but the older members of the pride, i don’t understand. would you mind explaining that to me, please ? thank you.

    Charlotte Ross Stewart

    22 March 2022

    Hello Janine, sadly the cubs died of natural causes a few weeks before Mama Kali's disappearance. Their bodies weren't found but rather left to take their place in the circle of life. It was with great sadness that we learnt that the rest of the Angama pride followed Mama Kali out of the safety of Maasai Mara Reserve. By leaving the Reserve, the pride were at a huge risk of human-wildlife conflict which we presume was the cause of their demise.

Peter Hemi

15 March 2022

Very sad to read of the lions death.She was an inspiration to me.I read all your blogs and feel part of the team.i would love to visit one day.Roughly how much would it cost 2 adults for 5 days

    Charlotte Ross Stewart

    22 March 2022

    Hi Peter! Thank you for reading our blog so faithfully, it means a lot to us. We would be so happy to welcome you to Angama after all this time. Please send an email to [email protected] and one of our travel planners would be delighted to go through our rates and the different options available to you. We look forward to your visit.

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