Ngorongoro Lions


Get to know the lions of Ngorongoro!

KopeLion study area Ngorongoro Conservation Area

Ngorongoro Lions

Situation of the lion in Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

1. Lions – Ngorongoro Crater

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2. Lions – Ndutu area

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3. Lions – multi-use area

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Lions – global situation

Lions across most of Africa are threatened. Rapid decline and the breaking up of larger populations into smaller isolated and more vulnerable ones puts Africa’s top predator’s future at risk. While lion numbers show positive trends in certain protected areas in Southern Africa, those populations are intensely managed and divided up into many smaller semi-artificial fenced-in reserves. Like other large carnivores, the lion needs large and ecologically functioning landscapes for its long-term survival. The growing demands from increasing human populations, rapidly eats away at those landscapes. This loss of habitat is the main cause for our recent century’s dramatic decline in lions. Where lions still co-exist with people, their main threat is persecution resulting from human-lion conflicts.

Lions – situation in Tanzania and in Greater Serengeti

Tanzania is one of the most important countries for the lion’s long-term survival. It has about one third of the world’s lions, and three of the five remaining large extensive populations. The greater Serengeti hosts one such important population, divided into two sub-populations; the larger Serengeti population, and the smaller and genetically impoverished Ngorongoro Crater population. Separating these two groups is a multi-use area where wildlife co-exist alongside traditional pastoralists and their livestock. Here the rapidly expanding human population has intensified the human-lion conflict, resulting in low chance of survival for any lion that may travel across, settle in or visit this area. Today few lions persist here, mainly as elusive and nomadic individuals. This has led to an increasing isolation of the Ngorongoro Crater lions. They now experience a long history of close inbreeding, affecting their fertility and susceptibility to disease. Without intervention, the long term survival of the iconic Ngorongoro Crater lion is threatened.

Ngorongoro Crater Lions – a unique and valuable population

The Ngorongoro Crater lion population is uniquely important. Studied almost continuously since 1963, it is the best-known, best-studied lion population in the world. Having become physically separated from the lion population in the nearby Serengeti National Park, the Crater lions have become a text book example of the challenges facing an isolated inbred population. Our ongoing efforts to restore the connection between the Serengeti and the Crater offer a rare opportunity to measure the effects of lion conservation efforts in a population whose every member is individually recognized and observed over its entire lifespan. The Crater lions are also essential to the lucrative wildlife tourism industry in northern Tanzania, bringing significant revenue to the region and to the entire nation. The Crater would just not be the same without its lions!

Kope Lion, Ngorongoro Crater, two lions with gnu kill.

Lakette females, full bellies, still digging in for more. The gnu has clearly given up. Ngorongoro Crater.

Challenging dispersal from Serengeti to Ngorongoro

Our lion movement data confirms that while there is a clear disruption between Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater, a few lions are still dispersing across that landscape. Their survival chances, however, are very low and those who make it to the Crater highlands appears reluctant to enter the Crater.

In the lion society, females stay with or near their natal pride and males leave. The departing males become nomads, wandering wide and far. Those males are the most likely ones to disperse between neighbouring populations. A male’s mission in life is to take reign of a pride, or prides, and spread his progeny. To accomplish this, he needs the power to oust the current resident male(s). For lions, strength is in numbers. Thus most males join up with their brothers, cousins or other lone nomads, to become partners in a lifelong coalition.

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The greatest danger for male lions is other male lions.

The greatest danger for male lions is other male lions. If dispersing males from Serengeti eventually reach the Crater, they will encounter perhaps the greatest obstacle; that of large and well-established groups of Crater born males. Those well-fed males, with massive manes on full display are not keen on male intruders.

Adapting to humans

We receive a wealth of data on fine-scale movement, behaviours, and prey choice from a few “multi-use area lions” that we managed to GPS collar. One of the striking findings is lions’ capacity to adapt to living among people and livestock. While they clearly avoid areas with settlement and activities in the daytime, they seem to hesitate little to pass just by homesteads in the night.

Ndutu’s 4 year’s old Tom, after spear-wound treatment and equipped with a GPS-collar. Ingela waiting for him to wake up.

Our GPS-collared lions give us lots of valuable information. For example we have found that lions living close to people avoid settlements in daytime, but pass close by at night.