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The predators of Tsavo Conservation Area

Tsavo East and West National Parks, spanning a vast 20,812 km² in Kenya, are not only the country’s largest protected areas but also crucial strongholds for several of Africa’s most iconic predators. These parks harbour Kenya’s largest populations of lions (Panthera leo) and cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus), representing one of only four lion strongholds in East Africa and a significant portion of the region’s cheetah population.

This article will explore the large predator populations of the Tsavo Conservation Area, the challenges they face, and their hopes for the future.


Tsavo’s lions gained notoriety in 1898 during the construction of the Uganda Railway when a pair of maneless male lions, infamously known as the “man-eating lions of Tsavo,” allegedly killed over 28 people working on a bridge over the Tsavo River.

Today, Tsavo hosts one of East Africa’s largest lion populations with an estimated 675 in the Tsavo-Amboseli ecosytem. Researchers have calculated that within Tsavo East and West National Parks the population density of lions is 3.39 per 100 km².

Interestingly, researchers believe that this density is only 25% of the carrying capacity for lions in Tsavo, indicating that lion numbers could significantly increase with better protection and management.

Unfortunately, Tsavo’s lion population is considered to be in decline due to factors such as incidental snaring, extensive poisoning, and retaliatory killings following livestock depredations.

Why Do Tsavo Lions Have No Manes 1
Tsavo’s lions are unique as many of the males do not grow manes. Find out more about this curious adaptation here.

Wild Dogs

African wild dogs, also known as painted wolves or Cape hunting dogs, are one of Africa’s rarer predators, yet they are among the most successful. Hunting in packs, these clever strategists have a hunting success rate of 60-90%, drastically outperforming lions with 25%.

Once considered rare or even locally extinct in Tsavo, wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) have shown encouraging signs of recovery. Estimates suggest around 111 wild dogs inhabit the Tsavo Conservation Area (a population density of 0.52 per 100 km²) out of a total of 865 in Kenya.

These wild canines face numerous challenges from other large carnivores and anthropogenic factors such as habitat loss and disease transfer from domestic dogs.

African Wild Dog
A pack of African wild dogs curiously look up at Tsavo Trust’s passing patrol plane.


Cheetahs are perhaps Africa’s most elegant hunters. Lithe and slender, they can reach breathtaking speeds, with the fastest recorded cheetah clocking over 100 km/h.

Cheetahs are listed as vulnerable, and Kenya hosts a population of 1,160, according to the 2021 animal census.

In Tsavo, they have a patchy distribution with an estimated density of 0.74 per 100 km². This population is crucial as Tsavo provides connectivity between northern and southern wilderness regions, essential for the survival of species whose ranges often extend beyond protected areas.

According to the Tsavo Cheetah Project, some threats facing cheetahs in Tsavo include indiscriminate snares set by bushmeat poachers, as well as poaching of the cheetahs themselves.

Additonally, like all of Tsavo’s predators Cheetahs require a stable and large habitat to survive and flourish. Cheetahs, especially, will often suffer from kleptoparastism, which describes the feeding strategy where one animal deliberately steals food from another. If cheetah are increasingly pushed into smaller areas with high density of other predators, they will likely lose many of the meals they catch.

Predators Of Tsavo Cheetah


The spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) is best known for being a scavenger but is also an accomplished hunter. Spotted hyenas are the most abundant large carnivores in Tsavo, with a density of 18.75 per 100 km².

Striped hyenas (Hyaena hyaena), the smallest of the bone-cracking hyenas, are largely nocturnal, often leaving their dens only after total darkness and returning before sunrise. Previously thought to be absent in Tsavo East, they were found to be common and widespread, with a density of 3.26 per 100 km². These findings suggest that striped hyenas may be more abundant and less understood than previously believed.


The leopard (Panthera pardus) is a solitary and elusive big cat known for its remarkable adaptability and stunning spotted coat. As a versatile predator, it inhabits a range of environments from dense forests to arid savannas.

In Tsavo, leopards show higher occupancy and abundance in moister, more densely vegetated areas where they are better able to ambush their prey. Their population size appears stable, making Tsavo a critical stronghold for this species in Kenya.

Leopards are often the least understood of Africa’s large carnivores due to the difficulty of observing and counting them directly, which makes identifying thier threats a challenge. Leopards may also fall foul of poisoning or human-wildlife conflict.

Protecting Predators

The predators of Tsavo face significant threats due to human-wildlife conflict. Retaliatory killings of predators can be reduced through better protection of conservation areas and reducing the incursion of cattle grazing into areas with high predator populations. Promoting livelihoods outside of the park and increasing patrols through protected areas can also help reduce bushmeat poaching and the number of snares in the park.

Tsavo National Parks not only host Kenya’s largest remaining elephant population but also serve as a vital conservation area for large carnivores. Despite the challenges of protection due to its size and remoteness, Tsavo’s importance for numerous declining species and its role as a corridor connecting East Africa’s major wildlife areas cannot be overstated.

Effective conservation efforts must address illegal grazing, bushmeat poaching, and the targeted killing of predators. By enhancing the resources allocated to elephant protection to include broader wildlife protection measures, we can ensure that Tsavo remains a haven for Africa’s majestic predators and the diverse ecosystems they inhabit.

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