Lion Guardians Give Each Lion a Maasai Name

Lions from the Lion Guardians Project

These 9 lions are from the Mara Predator Project Lion Database.

When you think of an African male lion, the image that enters your mind might be that of a cat with a large mane around his head and neck.  But did you know that manes can come in all shapes and sizes and that the mane can change dramatically with age, health and reproductive activity? A male’s mane is an indicator of his health and status in the pride and is dependent upon both genetics and ecological factors.

The mane is used for identifying males, but it is important to remember that the mane can change in appearance over time. Mane sizes are characterized into three categories.

African Male Lion Mane Sizes

image courtesy of

A Small or “mohawk” mane  will be just on the crest of the head, chest and cheeks. Light in colour.

A Medium mane will be  longer on the head but does not quite reach the ears. Fuller on the chest and cheeks, but not on the shoulder.  The color is mostly brown.

A Large mane reaches or covers the ears, is very long covering the chest, cheeks and across the shoulder. The color is brown and often black.

In order to learn more about the African lion, we need to understand the individuals and study their behavior and movement. One way to do this is to attach a radio collar to track their movement. Once a lion is given a collar, the Lion Guardians give the big cat a Maasai name.  This naming of each lion is one of my favorite things in the project because the name helps to emphasize the uniqueness of each lion and leads to increased awareness of the importance of each individual in the broader community.

The names usually reference either a physical characteristic of a behavior unique to that particular lion.  For example, one lion was given the name Sikiria, which means  “he of the donkey”. This name was given to him because he liked to eat donkeys. This name and telling of stories about him, helps diffuse the anger and retaliation from the Maasai when Sikiria goes looking for a donkey.  Now watchful eyes can keep Sikiria out of trouble and the donkeys safe by relaying messages about Sikiria’s location.

It is also much easier to forgive behavior when you know the name the lion and their unique traits.  Just like when my parents forgive me for throwing fig tree dirt and more recently for retaliatory tinkling on my mom’s suitcase.

Take a look now at the same 9 lions with their given names. Can you see the unique characteristics of each and every  lion. And each and every lion has its own “personality”  too.

I would love for you to tell me which lion caught your eye and why.

Remember to leave your comment here, below this post too!

You might even pounce on a surprise prize.

Lion Guardians Lion's Names

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  1. Tabbymom Jen says

    Romeo’s red hair caught my eye.

  2. Looks like Saruni is quite the popular fellow. He is just so majestic and confident! I would say Joshua would be my second favorite.

  3. Laura Davis says

    I keep coming back to Saruni.  I love the expression on his face, and his coloration.

  4. I like Akiki. He has the “walks softly but carries a big stick” look about him.

  5. Elizabeth Flynn says

    They are all amazing. Each one is unique for one reason or another.  I think Clawed is the one that caught my eye the most. Unfortuantely, I think it is because he looks sad 🙁  Perhaps he just doesn’t like his name though.  I hope he really isn’t sad.

  6. i like kibe because his eyes look different from the rest and i think that makes him unique

  7. Hmm, Saruni and Joshua look like what I think of when I think of lions. Kibe looks like a guy I sorted dated in college. They are all so gorgeous, but since I have to choose I pick Lesanju. I’m not really sure why, perhaps because of his white snout right below a stark black nose, his freckly looking complexion and his stand out eye brows (if that’s what that is.) It could be the direct gaze. As I look closer I can see the scratches on his nose and cheek. This makes me think he might be older and a great warrior lion. Yep, that’s the lion for me. What does Lesanju mean in Maasai?

  8. First and foremost, I am drawn to Akiki. In his face, I see the evolution of our own endearing domesticated house cats. Clawed has an expression of knowing a juicy little secret or some joke and he’s waiting for the right moment to tell us. There is such a sense of regal in Saruni’s tilt of the head, you know he is king of the jungle. But, back to Akiki, there is only one thing on his mind: Dinner and you better hope you’re not it!

  9. Rose59saunders says

    The one who cot my eyes is Saruni.He`s so cute.I love the way his eyes look.It`s like he`s looking at you.But yet he`s really not looking at you.

  10. Saruni caught my eye, he just looks like he has it all under control….Akiki looks like one you could just go up to and pet-so does Clawed….Saitoti looks hungry for ANYTHING!!….Kibe could care less….Romeo looks lovelorn….Lesanju is the stud….Joshua is posing….and Moswen is thinking, “Man I could have caught that Antelope if I wasn’t so lazy”….Hope you all enjoyed my thoughts!!??

  11. Roaddriver76/antonio kittie says

    I like the eyes of Saitoti.It`s like he`s looking right at me.

  12. Joshua because he looks so regal!!

  13. Charlotte Mead says

    Romeo is looking far into the distance and thinking very hard about something………food, tomorrow……just being?…..He seems at peace. They are all awesome!

  14. I was taken with Akiki- I love his direct gaze and his wonderful mane!

  15. Brmildenstein says

    Ok….I think Romeo got the right name, for sure! He’s absolutley stunning!

  16. I like Kibe. There is something about not being able to see his eyes that reminds me of a sweet, wrinkled, old man.

  17. PetsWeekly says

    Lesanju and Joshua caught my eye – both so beautiful! Lesanju looks like hes quite a fighter!

  18. I was immediately drawn to Saruni and Lesanju. Saruni just looks so dignified, like the kind leader and archetypal male lion, and Lesanju like the battle-scarred warrior with all the best stories to tell. Look at all those marks on his face!! 

  19. Saruni for me. Beautiful coloring and eyes. Looks well groomed with nice composure.

  20. Hi Gracey!  I like Romeo.  He reminds me of Mufasa. 🙂

  21. It’s Akiki for me! Though they are all majestic!