Tributes Paid to 'Legendary' Scarface Lion Dead at 14: 'A Big Loss'

Conservationists around the world have paid tribute to a "legendary" lion named Scarface, who died last week.

The lion, who died of natural causes at the age of 14 years old on June 11, was a legendary figure in Kenya's Maasai Mara Game Reserve—a world-renowned safari destination.

Scarface was known for the scar over his right eye, after which he was named, and his exceptional mane. The lion had a long reign as the head of several prides and was a highly sought after attraction among visitors to the reserve.

Colby Loucks, vice president for Wildlife Conservation at the World Wildlife Fund, was among those to pay tribute to the lion. He told Newsweek: "As top predators in the food chain, lions play a critical role in the ecosystem. While it is a sad day to hear of the passing of Scarface, it is heartening to know that he was able to help maintain the natural ecosystem balance in the Maasai Mara National Reserve for over 14 years.

"His presence also helped support the local Maasai communities that benefit from ecotourism," he said. "Having had the thrill of seeing Scarface myself a few years ago, I can understand firsthand how his distinctive gaze enthralled the many tourists who came to see him."

Arend de Haas, director of conservation at the African Conservation Foundation, also mourned the passing of the lion.

"It is indeed a big loss that legendary Scarface passed away," de Haas told Newsweek. "He died of age-related issues, but his genes live on in the Maasai Mara prides."

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Mara Predator Conservation Programme confirmed his death on June 11.

"He died in peace without any disturbance from vehicles and hyenas," the non-profit said on Facebook. "We were the only vehicle on the scene and by his side, hoping to give him any kind of comfort. The Mara has lost yet another one of its great iconic males. May his legend forever live on."

Among others to pay tribute to the famous lion was international wildlife charity Born Free Foundation, which described him as a "mighty male" on Twitter.

Born Free is sad to hear of the death of Scarface, 14, the most famous lion in #Kenya’s Maasai Mara, who died of natural causes. A mighty male, his battled-scarred face features on the cover of photographer @GeorgeLogan’s book Lion: Pride Before the Fall.

📷 @georgelogan pic.twitter.com/Gdx2kLGBfc

— Born Free Foundation (@BornFreeFDN) June 15, 2021

"Born Free is sad to hear of the death of Scarface, 14, the most famous lion in Kenya's Maasai Mara, who died of natural causes," it said.

Wildlife photographer George Logan, who works with the Foundation, told The Guardian that he was 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," he said.

"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."

His death comes as the world's lion population has suffered dramatic declines in recent decades with experts estimating that there are only around 20,000 left in the wild, down from around 100,000 in the 1960s. In addition, the big cats have disappeared from more than 95 percent of their historic range, according to conservation non-profit Panthera.

Lions are listed as "vulnerable" on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species. They face threats including poaching, conflict with local people due to livestock depredation, and habitat loss and fragmentation.

"In the next 10 years, the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, we must reduce the pressure on Africa's vulnerable lion populations by restoring key habitats and corridors," de Haas said. "This approach addresses the needs of both wild nature and people, as they are intrinsically connected."

Scarface the lion
The lion known as Scarface pictured at the Maasai Mara Game Reserve. The lion died last week of natural causes.