Lions are one of the most iconic creatures in the entire animal kingdom. As a picturesque carnivore on the Sahara desert, the African Lion’s daily struggles and trials for survival are largely unknown. In fact, the average life span of a lion is relatively short, compared to the life span of many other creatures.
The article “The Short Happy Life of a Serengeti Lion” in the August 2013 edition of the National Geographic Magazine explains how one group of researchers took on the Serengeti Lion Project, in order to document the life of the lion in great detail. Located in the Serengeti National Park, the research project, one of the longest continuous field studies of a species, has been active since 1966 and is conducted in the Tanzania portion of the national park.
Craig Packer has been the leader of the project for 35 years and much information has been acquired about this fascinating species. An adult male is fortunate to live to the age of 12 in the wild, while females can live a few years more at 19 years. The life expectancy is especially low in cub years, due to male coalitions exterminating a litter of cubs that is not their kin.
Coalitions of lions are essentially male lion gangs. The males typically roam together, sometimes settling down with a group of females and cubs for a period of time, while others will enter and depart from female groups sporadically. Females take care of the cubs, and the males provide defense, protection, and opportunities for offspring. Surprisingly, the males don’t always provide the food for their pride. A hungry pack of female lionesses can take down prey quite swiftly and expertly on their own.
Ironically, lions are the number one enemy of the lion species. Males are especially jealous creatures, and they will kill females they find unfaithful, males that challenge their authority, and cubs whom they deem unfit to live or who come from another lion father. Females will also kill fellow lionesses if they feel the other female poses a threat to the pride. One of the reasons lions operate in groups rather than remain solitary creatures is to provide essential protection from their own kind in such a brief life span. Holding territory and standing ground are two of the most important themes in a lion’s life.
I found this article describing the life of an African Lion to be incredibly fascinating. I had never known much about the lion species, other than the fact that it is one of the most feared and revered animal species on the planet. My school mascot is even the Sahara King, and I still only knew that lions were commonly referred to as a viscous, heartless creature. After reading the lion feature in National Geographic, I feel more sympathetic towards the roving animal. Their lives are dotted with struggle, upheaval, and cut-throat determination. The food is scarce, the land is dry, and the lives are numbered from day one. It seems the whole world is the lion’s enemy. This article didn’t even highlight the issue of poaching, which I would imagine is an issue in the poverty-consumed nations of Africa. I believe the Serengeti Lion Project is an essential research project, in order to educate the public about the mysterious life of the lion, and to preserve the details of such an incredible species.
Quammen, David. “The Short Happy Life of a Serengeti Lion.” National Geographic Aug. 2013: n. pag. Print.
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