Scarface the Lion: The Legend of the Masai Mara

Scarface the Lion -SPortnoy_20151001_7554-

Scarface the lion

It was he, Scarface the lion (Scar), curled up like a housecat in the grass, his thick dew-covered mane sparkling in the sun. His brothers Hunter, Sikio, and Morani were nearby; they too were sleeping. The Four Musketeers, known for their prowess and savagery, instead looked precious where they lay.

Though all are well known, Scar is the celebrity. To see him in real life is considered a “thing”. In Kenya’s Masai Mara, when travelers are on safari they compare notes there’s one defining factor, those who’ve seen Scar and those who have not. Photographers from around the world quake with delight at the sight of him.

His virility is legendary and coupled with his rugged good looks—a black widow’s peak and a mane that sweeps back from his forehead like an evil Disney character—he embodies every bit the superstar.

Photographing Scarface the lion in the Masai Mara

Scar looking all kitty-like

How did Scar get his scar?

He earned his moniker in 2012 when he lost his right eyelid while making a territory grab with his three brothers Hunter, Sikio, and Morani. (Here’s a photo of him at that time.) They won the paws of the fair Marsh Pride females, defeating the lesser males they killed or sent packing.

Though he’s not without his close calls. He narrowly escaped death after being speared by a Maasai warrior protecting his cattle. But with the help of conservancy vets, he was soon back on the hunt.

Scarface the Lion-SPortnoy_20151001_7480

The Sleeping King

I’m alone in the jeep with my guide Sammy. Earlier, we’d heard from a couple of rangers that there were big cats ahead. Putting the vehicle in gear, we sped along the dusty dirt road to the spot where the four lions lay, not knowing if the male we sought was among them. I looked at Sammy, his binoculars digging into his forehead, as his concentration gave way to a toothy grin. “Scar!” he whispered. I was overjoyed.

Watching him sleep, I’m trying to imagine him in battle. Claws extended, his face twisting into a snarl as a low guttural rumble explodes into a deafening roar. But I can’t, he looks too sweet, too vulnerable, like an oversized pet.

Scarface the Lion -1 cuddled in the backyard.

For a moment he raises his head. Is that a baboon I hear, screeching to its troop that the lions are near? He sniffs the air then surveys the landscape. Indifferent to the waking plains, he uses his large paws as a pillow and falls back to sleep, combat far from his mind.

I will see Scar a few times after this first encounter, walking alone through the high grass or sleeping yet again. I never see the stuff his legend is made of. But at night I hear it, I hear the warrior, his husky bellow piercing the black with a force that shakes the trees.

I hear the king, the legend, claiming his domain.

Other stories from the Masai Mara

The Drama, the Suspense, the Thrill of a Wildebeest Crossing

Miracle Sightings in the Masai Mara

On Safari in Kenya: Zebra vs Crocodile!

The Tale of the Lion in the Tree and The Evil White Jeep

The Dance of Dominance and Submission Between Lions

A Morning with Lions I’ll Never Forget

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SCARFace The Lion. The Legend of the Masai Mara




32 replies »

  1. Hello,
    Bit late,Very beautiful photos.
    Is Scarface still around mara?
    Will mara triangle be a good spot for Sikio and Scarface ?

    • My husband and I just came back from Kenya and the Mara (October 2017) and were extremely lucky in that we saw Scarface. He was sitting beside the road with a lioness. Our guide said that we were really lucky and he was right. It was amazing. Unfortunately he is getting very old and our guide didn’t feel there was much time left for him. The whole Kenya safari was the best trip ever! I would go back in a minute!

      • It’s wonderful that you got to see him. I worry that I won’t get back there to see him before he’s gone. That said, I had friends there for 8 weeks this passed summer and they said he was mating and defending himself so hopefully he’s got a little more time than expected left.

  2. Dumb question from a TOTAL stranger to these things. If Scar’s eye looks so bad (the raw tissue exposed an all), and with the lion population in such danger, is there ever any thought given to capturing and delivery health care, then releasing such an animal back to his pride?

    • For the most part, the rangers/vets let nature take its course. If his injury is caused by living life as a lion then they really don’t interfere. That being said, he was speared by a Maasai when he was going after some livestock and the vets did assist at that point. There are certainly exceptions to these rules, but on the average that’s what they try to adhere to. Even if they wanted to help with every injury, the costs would be astronomical if it took place on any regular basis. They need vehicles, vets, dart guns, the tranquilizers and medicines, etc. etc.

  3. Fantastic narrative.. We have been to the Mara twice and seen him both times.. Once luckily we saw him mating .. He is a legend. Masai Mara is best place on earth. X

  4. Stunning shots of this icon, who I’ve only heard of. Yet every time I’ve seen lions in South Africa their individual characteristics come through the uniqueness of each face. How I’d love to spend more time with them and recognize each individual. And at the end of the day, I could lay and listen to the lions roar all night except that wake up call comes SO early. Glad you got to see this dream come true.

    • I can’t tell you how happy that makes me. I really appreciate the kind words. It’s always a bit of a struggle for me so to know that you enjoyed it in the end is fantastic. Thank you!

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