Scarface the Lion: The Masai Mara Legend

Scarface the Lion standing near some of his cubs in the Masai Mara, Kenya.
Scar with some of his sub-adult cubs

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 also slept. The Four Musketeers, known for their prowess and savagery, instead looked precious where they lay.

Updated Oct 2020

Though all are well known, Scar is the real celebrity. To see him in real life is considered a “thing”. In Kenya’s Masai Mara, when travelers on safari 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. (You can find additional photos and some video on the Scarface the Lion Facebook page.)

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 a villain in a Disney flick—he embodies every bit the superstar.

How Did Scar Get His Scar?

Scar 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.

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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 walking toward the camera in the Masai Mara, Kenya.

An Encounter: 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 standing in tall grass in Kenya.

For a moment he raises his head. Is that a baboon alarm call telling 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.

Scar Today

Thrilled to hear that Scar is alive and well as of November 2020. A reader let me know that Scar and two other males (perhaps his brothers Sikio and Hunter) were spotted sleeping under a tree in the Mara. Scar is estimated to be around 12 years old, which is very old in lion years, especially for a male who has been in as many scrapes as he.

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54 thoughts on “Scarface the Lion: The Masai Mara Legend

    • Susan Portnoy says:

      Fantastic! I wonder if they were his brothers Sikio and Hunter? So glad he’s still alive. Was he in the Mara Triangle?

  1. Janusz Galka Milesawaytravel says:

    Scar is still here. We saw him yesterday and this morning with his brothers. Mara open. Full of animals, only few travelers. 18 th of September 2020

    • Susan Portnoy says:

      I am so glad to hear that! I bet it must be fantastic in the Mara without all the people (except for the economic impact of course). I hope I’m able to make it back and see him before he’s gone. He’s getting old. Was he limping when you saw him?

  2. Dr Vasanth Joshi says:

    I was in Masai Mara October 2019 and came across Scarface, another male with a scar on the Right eye and a female. They were all resting after a meal. The next day saw the female that had an injury on left hip walking away. Day after that we saw mating between another female and a male that had a scar on the right eye. My guide told me it was scarface but I doubt if he has the energy for mating. If it was not scarface, is there another male in Marsh Pride that has a scar on the Right eye?
    Dr Vasanth Joshi

    • Susan Portnoy says:

      Hello Vasanth!
      How wonderful that you saw Scar! I’m not familiar with the second male who has an injury above his right eye as well. Scar’s right eye has no upper lid. It’s constantly open, in addition to the damage done around it. I would heed your guide. I’ve been told by guides and photographers in the bush this season that Scar is still an Alpha, despite his hip, and mating. Which makes me so happy. He’s an incredible animal.

  3. Becky Blossom says:

    I am leaving Kenya tonight and was in the Mara last week- saw the Marsh Pride and saw a male lion there who displayed a visible scar on the right eye- Iโ€™m comparing photos and he appears to have a lighter mane than Scarface. Is there another male in the Pride with a scar also? I have several photos if that would help.

  4. francetaste says:

    These are gorgeous shots. Maasai Mara is spectacular, but so are Meru and Samburu and Tsavo and so many other places in Kenya. Hopefully photography like yours will help protect these wild places.
    PS kudos for correctly conjugating “lie/lay”

  5. carlamcgill says:

    I would love to hear that roaring in the night. How wonderful that so many of you have gotten to experience such a thing! Wonderful photos of an amazing creature!

    • Susan Portnoy says:

      He’s truly amazing. It’s just sad because it’s only a matter of time (and sooner than later) where he’ll stop winning. He’s an old boy, some estimate 10 years. I really hope I see him again before that happens.

  6. Vasanthan.J says:

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

    • Joan says:

      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!

      • Susan Portnoy says:

        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.

  7. Sharon says:

    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?

    • Susan Portnoy says:

      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.

  8. Jane kimberley says:

    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

  9. geogypsy2u says:

    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.

    • Susan Portnoy says:

      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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