Eugene – is he bringing new genes?

We first laid eyes on Eugene in Sept 2013. He was then around 4 years old, in great shape and with a nice but not massive mane. His eagerness to consort a lioness of the Munge pride, the largest of the prides on the Crater floor, lowered his obvious shyness for vehicles, and we could drive closer to identify him.

Young Eugene, 2013.

On subsequent visits we found Eugene with 3 other males, and all of them unknown to us. We found no matches with any of the Crater-born males, nor among the known lions in neighbouring Serengeti. This was exciting! The last time we documented an unknown male entering and establishing in the Crater was in 1993. Being hopeful that this quartet of males were bringing new genes to the Crater lions we called it the Gene-flow coalition, and named the other three males Genius, Gene and Genovo. It is likely that they are the offspring to Crater descendent lions that have moved up into the dense Crater highland forest. Our genetic samples, when eventually analysed, will show.

Gene Flow coalition. All four males. July 2014.

Being four males in the coalition the Gene-Flow swiftly took over the Munge pride, with their rich territory along Munge river in the NE section of the Crater. Then a long wait began until finally between May to August 2014 all the 10 Munge females had surviving litters. These cubs, sired by the Gene Flow males, had a remarkable survival, of the 20 born 15 made it beyond their 2nd birthday, and age of independence.

In 2014 there was a cub boom in the Munge pride after the takeover of the Gene Flow males. This photo is from May 2015.

Life on the top obviously has its price. Both Gene and Genovo have disappeared – most likely victims to fights with other males. Since late 2015 the remaining pair, Eugene and Genius, are mostly seen with or nearby the Lakes pride in the NW section of the Crater floor. Also there they gave rise to a cub boom, with 10 cubs born to 3 females. As of September 2016 seven of these Gene Flow offspring are still around. It is tricky to find them, however, as Lake pride’s territory spans over indistinct grass plains, full of Cordifolia shrubs that perfectly hides even large gatherings of lions.

Eugene resting his chin on his lady LK98. Lakes pride. Photo taken just after a livestock herd had passed by. September 2016, Ngorongoro Crater.
Egugene to the left and Genius to the left. September 2016, Ngorongoro Crater.
Eugene´s home area in the Ngorongoro Crater.

In January 2018 Eugene had a big lesion on his mouth, possibly a form of cancer. After treatment, he seemed to improve, but we have not seen him since March the same year. Cancerous mouth lesions have similarly been seen in lions in the Serengeti and they have all eventually died as a result.