National Geographic : 2018 Dec
EXPLORE | THROUGH THE LENS NGM MAPS He was everything an African lion should be: resourceful, cantankerous, patient, seemingly indestructible, continually imperiled, and gorgeous to behold. cubs. They were pushing again for new conquests, the Killers, threatening to expand their domain. Another assistant on the Packer study, a young Swede named Daniel Rosengren, spotted them at dawn one morning, as I rode along, where they lay on a grassy stream bank, nursing facial wounds from a recent fight. Whom had they fought? Our guess was C-Boy, again. Had he survived once more? If so, in what condition? There were no answers through a long day of fruit- less searching. Nick’s team couldn’t find him, and neither could we. Late that evening Rosengren and I equipped ourselves with night-vision binoculars and sleeping bags, then rolled slowly overland behind the Killers in his Land Rover for the entire night, trading shifts of sleeping and watching, while the lions prowled, rested, and moved again. I called it the Night of the Long Follow. These ambitious lions were on the march through C-Boy and Hildur’s territory, and we wanted to see where they went, what they did, and whether their daring incursion—plus their battle wounds—meant that they had killed their way to preeminence here- abouts as well. Dawn came, the Killers walked boldly away down a two-track road, and for two days after- ward, there was still no sign of C-Boy. In a journal entry, I recorded him as “missing, suspected dead.” But he wasn’t dead. On the third morning, near a group of rock outcrops known as the Zebra Kopjes, we found him, unscathed and lusty, mounting a ready female. In the journal for that day, Decem- ber 17, 2012, I wrote: “O happy lion!” His mane showed dark and virile in the early morning light. He was very much alive. BUT EVEN C-BOY COULDN’T live forever. Last summer I got an email from Rosengren, now employed as a roving wildlife photographer by the Frankfurt Zoological Society. He confirmed what I’d heard elsewhere. “ Yes, C-Boy was found dead by a tour driver who knew him well,” he wrote. “I can’t really say much more than that. He had apparently already been dead for a couple of days when they found him (following the vultures that ate the carcass).” There was no sign he’d been speared by a Maasai herdsman—intent on protecting cows—or shot by a poacher. “He was about 14 years old,” Rosengren wrote, “touching the record age for a male lion in all the history of the lion project.” Twelve years is generally the maximal expected lifetime for a male. C-Boy’s partner Hildur, also pushing the limits, was amaz- ingly still alive. It was saddening, Rosengren said, to realize that C-Boy is gone. “But at the same time, he lived a longer life than expected for a male lion. A life that almost ended close to a decade ago when the Killers got him. He got a second chance and certainly made the best of it.” Rosengren added: “I wish that I could have seen him one more time.” I wished the same, and knew I couldn’t, so I did the next best thing. I opened the August 2013 issue of the magazine, and there was Nick’s magnificent black-and-white portrait of C-Boy (shown here, pages 34-5), with his dark-fringed mane, staring back at me through the Tanzanian night. It consoled me with the reminder that C-Boy’s life, short or long, happy or fraught, embodied a magisterial will to survive. Michael “Nick” Nichols has photographed more than two dozen stories for National Geographic and is the subject of the 2017 biography A Wild Life. David Quammen is a National Geographic contributing writer and author; his most recent book is The Tangled Tree. INDIAN OCEAN TANZANIA AFRICA ASIA INDIAN OCEAN C-Boy snarls a rejection at a female who approached him to mate. His dark mane, which indicated that he was healthy and strong, attracted females—and served as a warning to rival males.