National Geographic : 2013 Aug
dynamics of which are determined by an intri- cate balance of evolutionary costs and bene ts. Why has social behavior, lacking in other cats, become so important in this one? Is it a nec- essary adaptation for hunting large prey such as wildebeest? Does it facilitate the defense of young cubs? Has it arisen from the imperatives of competing for territory? As details of leonine sociality have emerged, mostly over the past 40 years, many of the key revelations have come from a continuous study of lions within a single ecosystem: the Serengeti. Serengeti National Park encompasses 5,700 square miles of grassy plains and woodlands near the northern border of Tanzania. e park had its origin as a smaller game reserve under the British colonial government in the 1920s and was established formally in 1951. e greater eco- system, within which vast herds of wildebeest, zebra, and gazelle migrate seasonally, following the rains to fresh grass, includes several game reserves (designated for hunting) along the park's western edge, other lands under mixed man- agement regimes (including the Ngorongoro Conservation Area) along the east, and a trans- boundary extension (the Masai Mara National Reserve) in Kenya. In addition to the migratory herds, there are populations of hartebeests, topi, reedbuck, waterbuck, eland, impalas, bu alo, warthogs, and other herbivores living less peri- patetic lives. Nowhere else in Africa supports quite such a concentrated abundance of hoofed meat, amid such open landscape, and therefore the Serengeti is a glorious place for lions and an ideal site for lion researchers. George Schaller arrived in 1966, by invitation of the director of Tanzania National Parks, to study the e ects of lion predation on prey popu- lations---and to learn as much as he could, in the process, about the dynamics of the entire ecosys- tem. Schaller, a legendarily tough and astute eld biologist, had earlier done pioneering research on mountain gorillas. If you're making the rst detailed study of any species, he told me recently, "you grab what you can." He grabbed a cornu- copia of data during three and a quarter years of intensive eldwork, and his subsequent book, e Serengeti Lion, became the foundational text. Other researchers followed. A young English- man named Brian Bertram succeeded Schaller and stayed four years, long enough to begin teas- ing out the social factors that a ect reproductive success and to explain an important phenome- non: male infanticide. Bertram documented four cases (with many others suspected) in which a new coalition of males killed cubs of a pride it had just taken over. Jeannette Hanby and David Bygott came next and assembled evidence that forming coalitions---especially coalitions of three or more---helps male lions gain and hold control of prides and thereby produce more sur- viving o spring. Hanby and Bygott studied some of the same prides in the same areas as Bertram and Schaller had. en, in 1978, Craig Packer and Anne Pusey took over the study, a er having done eldwork at the Gombe Stream Research Center (also in Tanzania) with Jane Goodall. Pusey stayed with the lion project a dozen years, co-authoring some important papers, and Packer is still on the case, leading the Serengeti Lion Project, of which Ingela Jansson's work is part. He is arguably now the world's leading authority on the behavior and ecology of the African lion. With Packer's 35 years of work added to what Schaller and the others did, the Serengeti Lion Project represents one of the longest continuous eld studies of a species. Such continuity is especially valuable, allowing scientists to set events in broad context and distinguish the transitory from the essential. "If you have a long-term data set," Schaller told me, "you nd out what actually happens." One thing that happens is death. Although it's ineluctable for every creature, the particulars of timing and cause add up to patterns that matter. experience with the Killers, C-Boy surrendered his claim on the David Quammen wrote about the lions of India's Gir Forest in his book Monster of God. Michael Nichols is the founder of the LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph. is was his rst professional collaboration with his wife of 30 years, naturalist Reba Peck.