It is seldom a death at 14 is celebrated with awe, but for conservationists, the passing of Scarface of natural causes marked a remarkable end for the most famous lion in the world.
“With its death, the Mara has lost yet another iconic lion,” said the Nation newspaper, with the Kenyan Wildlife Service reporting he “died in peace without any disturbance from vehicles or hyenas”.
Nicknamed because of the scar about his eye, he became sought after by tourists and conservationists, partly because of his gnarly face and exceptional mane but also because of his long reign at the top of many prides.
The Scottish wildlife photographer George Logan behind the Born Free Foundation book Pride Before the Fall, described him as the “rockstar of the Mara”.
“Lions are lucky to get to 15. For the previous week, we’d been receiving messages, photos and videos from Kenya, showing Scar obviously struggling and nearing the end.
“It’s quite rare for a wild lion to die peacefully and of natural causes, but thankfully and fittingly, this is what has happened for Scar. He lived wild and free right to the end, in the land of his birth,” he said.
Most male lions last two or three years as the king of the pride and are killed by rivals or become weak from their battle injuries and set upon by hyenas. But not Scarface.
“Even near the end, he defied logic by dragging himself 25km back in the direction of his original territory, near to where he was born. We feared the worst when we saw him in close proximity to the Salas males [lions], a trio of the most ferocious young males in the Mara, but they respectfully let him be, even when he defiantly snarled at them,” said Logan.
Scarface was the last surviving member of one of four male lions known as “the four musketeers coalition” because of their long domination over a variety of prides.
“He had this exceptionally big mane, which apparently makes lions more attractive to females. He was quite unique and stayed at the top so long with this crazy appearance and big personality. I would say he was the most famous lion in the world,” said Logan, who is part of a campaign to protect the remaining lion population which has gone from 100,000 in the 1960s to just 20,000.
He says the pandemic and disruption to tourism has devastated funding of conservation efforts with revenue that pays for rangers and anti-poaching patrols completely “eroded”.