King of the Savanna
A large part of what we know about lions and their behavior today has been researched in the Serengeti. Since 1966 scientists research the king of the savanna.
Serengeti, 15th January 2014 by Daniel Rosengren
When Serengeti Lion Project was started by George Schaller, very little was known about wild lions. Everything people knew, or thought they knew, was based on observations made in zoos. Since that time, large numbers of students, PhD candidates and lion-project members have completed numerous studies gathering invaluable knowledge on lions in the wild. It is the second longest ongoing study in the world of a species of wild animals. Since 1978 Craig Packer has been in charge of the Serengeti Lion Project. Prof. Packer is based at the University of Minnesota, USA.
Members of the lion project and of Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) have formed an active scientific community working together in the Serengeti. For some time now, FZS has supported the projects with logistical help. For example, FZS runs the workshop for the Tanzanian National Park authority TANAPA providing maintenance for vehicles in the park. In addition, the Society provides their plane for monitoring flights, enabling the researchers to radio-track the lions much faster. During these flights huge areas can be covered in a short time. Additionally, since the range of the tracking equipment is much greater from the air, there is a higher rate of success.
There are currently 20-25 prides of lions to taling about 380 individuals that are being studied constantly by the project researchers. A typical pride includes three to six females with their offspring as well as an alliance of two to four males.
The lion population in the Serengeti is estimated to between 2,500 and 3,000 individuals. This makes the area one of the most important remaining strongholds of lions in Africa. Tanzania has the largest number of lions in the world. The long-term demographic data of the lions in Serengeti is an invaluable source of information. Thanks to decades of continuous monitoring of “their” lion prides, the scientists were able to gain important insight about the lion’s group interactions. The studies conducted have answered many questions including why lions have manes and why they are the only social cat species on earth.
The Serengeti Lion Project also monitors the lions in the Ngorongoro Crater (part of the Serengeti Ecosystem), an area that contains the highest concentration of large carnivores in the world. The lion population in the Crater is inbred and in urgent need of genetic variation. But the area between the Crater and Serengeti is inhabited by pasturaslist Maasai, who depend on the area to nourish their livestock. Serengeti Lion Project is working on a sustainable solution for both Maasai and lions to coexist “peacefully” in that area. Hopefully, that project will lead to an exchange in lion genes between the Crater and Serengeti in the future.
Project scientists found out that the lion’s mane is a signal of physical strength, especially in the African heat. The “hairstyle” deters rivals and attracts females. Further studies of the Serengeti Lion Project discovered that lions can recognise each other by voice, can also count and that the hunting success of lions depends on the phases of the moon. In dark nights, during new moon phases, lions are in their element, because they can see better in the dark than any other species.