Ngorongoro Lions

Name ID 443

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Packer, Craig The Lions of Ngorongoro Crater
Extract Author: Craig Packer
Page Number: h

Ngorongoro Lions

"I visited Henry Fosbrooke again in October 1990. When I told him that I suspected the crater lions had been through previous periods of genetic decline, he led me into his large library and said, 'You should read these.' They were accounts of big-game expeditions that went into the crater in the early twenties. During two weeks in 1922 one hunting party bagged seven adult lions and badly wounded another three. The last expedition was in 1924, when five more lions were killed. Considering that there are never more than about 30 adult lions in the crater and that most of the wounded animals probably died as well, the breeding population must have been severely reduced. Our genetic assays more than 60 years later may well have revealed the results of this onslaught.

The Serengeti and Ngorongoro were declared wildlife sanctuaries in the late twenties to protect the lions from further hunting. Ngorongoro Crater became a world heritage in 1979 in recognition of its special significance as a microcosm of African savanna. The popular appeal of charismatic carnivores such as lions has often led to the conservation of habitat that sustains a host of other species. But living at the top of the food chain inevitably means that predators often end up in small, threatened populations.

The history of the crator lions may represent the future for many other large vertebrates. Increased human habitation around Africa's national parks has formed virtually impermeable boundaries, and recently many species have become isolated in small populations, making them even more vulnerable to environmental catastrophe. Add to this the effects of close inbreeding, and many small populations may well be caught in a downward spiral.

A trio of males patrol their crater territory. Ironically, they are strong enough to deter what their population most needs -- the entry of outside lions with new genes 'Perpetuating these populations will require more than just protecting them from hunters and poachers. The crater lions are conspicuous and have therefore proved surprisingly easy to monitor. The fates of most other small populations will run their course undetected.'

Craig Packer

Extract ID: 3910

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Packer, Craig The Lions of Ngorongoro Crater
Page Number: c
Extract Date: 1961

Stomoxys calcitrans

There were two reasons to suspect the crater lions were inbred:

No new lions had entered the crater during the previous four years

A report suggesting the population of crater lions had been devastated by a plague of biting flies in 1962

According to Henry Fosbrooke, conservator of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area during 1961 and 1962, exceptionally heavy rains permitted the biting fly Stomoxys calcitrans to breed constantly for more than six months. By May 1962 the crater had switched from heaven to hell for the lions. Most lions became emaciated and covered with festering sores, and while many sought shelter by climbing trees or hiding in hyena burrows, they eventually became so ill they were no longer able to hunt. By the time the rains finally abated, Fosbrooke estimated the population of at least 70 lions had been reduced to about ten.

Extract ID: 3905

See also

Packer, Craig The Lions of Ngorongoro Crater
Page Number: d
Extract Date: 1972-75


By 1972 the population was reported to have recovered to its former levels and was distributed among three prides and by 1975, the Bygotts reported lions on the crater floor dispersed among five prides.

Extract ID: 3906

See also

Packer, Craig The Lions of Ngorongoro Crater
Extract Author: Craig Packer
Page Number: a
Extract Date: 1979

The Lions of Ngorongoro Crater

In January 1979 Craig Packer with colleague and wife Anne Pusey, began their study of lions in Nogorongoro Crater, a 2,000-foot-deep caldera with a hundred square mile floor located at the eastern edge of Tanzania's Serengeti Plain. The craters's cliff walls serve to isolate about 100 lions from their nearby Serengeti counterparts.

Suspecting the lions were subjected to repeated inbreeding and that they may conceal genetic vulnerabilities, the Packers set about reconstructing the family tree of at least five generations of every lion that lived in the crater. The scientific mystery would take ten years to solve.

Extract ID: 1416

See also

Packer, Craig The Lions of Ngorongoro Crater
Page Number: f
Extract Date: 1979

All the lion photographs

The method used by the Packers incorporated the monumental task of assembling and organizing all the lion photographs they could find from around the world, from biologists and scientists who had studied the crater lions, through to film crews and tourists who had journeyed to the crater floor since the road granting access was completed in 1959.

In 1979 Packer and Pusey began using lion ID cards with pictures of individuals at various ages, noting field marks such as whisker spots and ear notches to pinpoint lions. They contacted preceding researchers who had photographed or drawn the same lions or their forebears and solicitied photographs taken by tourists, receiving hundreds to help fill in the gaps.

Eventually their catalog put faces on more than 500 individuals, most now dead. Their detective work determined that all of today's crater lions descend from only 15 lions that either survived the flies or invaded Ngorongoro shortly thereafter.

This photo chronology revealed that the entire crater population descended from 15 animals. Only eight individuals survived the plague while the others were males that may have entered the crater from the Serengeti. The plague had removed so many adult males from the crater that fresh blood was able to enter. Once the residents resumed breeding, they had several large sets of sons that monopolized the crater prides and kept any additional immigrant males out. Thus the current crater population has been subject to close inbreeding since 1969, about five lion generations.

Extract ID: 3908

See also

Packer, Craig The Lions of Ngorongoro Crater
Page Number: e
Extract Date: 1984

Genetic studies of the crater lions

The Packers invited Steve O'Brien at the National Cancer Institute and his colleagues from Washington's National Zoo to conduct genetic studies of the crater lions in 1984. O'Brien had surveyed the genetics of several different cat species through his research on feline leukemia. Genetics and reproductive physiology of the crater lions were assessed by comparing them with the nearby Serengeti lions, since long-term studies of the Serengeti population had shown that close inbreeding is almost nonexistant in that area.

Extract ID: 3907

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Tyler, David J. The Lions of Ngorongoro
Extract Author: David J. Tyler
Extract Date: 1992

Hazards of genetic isolation

David J. Tyler (1992) Copyright � 1996 The Biblical Creation Society

Many visitors to Tanzania are attracted to the Serengeti Plain, with its breathtaking views and rich diversity of wildlife. But the magnetism is especially powerful along the eastern edge, with a range of high mountains and the spectacular Ngorongoro Crater. This natural feature is one of the World's largest calderas: the walls of the crater were originally part of a giant dome formed by volcanic activity and the top of the dome later collapsed to become the crater floor. The perimeter of the crater rises to about 2400 metres (8000 feet), the floor is at about 1700 metres (5600 feet), and it has a diameter of about 20 kilometres. It has become an ecological island, with the caldera walls forming a natural barrier to the movement of animals. Whereas migration is the norm on the Serengeti Plain, the crater animals are permanent residents. The soil is good; the rainfall is reliable; there are good numbers of animals - indeed, the crater has the highest density of large carnivores in Africa.

The lions of Ngorongoro are much photographed by tourists, and have been the subject of numerous detailed studies by zoologists. Few have suspected the sad story that lies behind their proud appearance! We are indebted to Craig Packer for providing a fascinating overview of the developing crisis (National Geographic, April 1992, 122-136). The lions have a problem of inbreeding: genetic isolation is an unseen enemy which weakens them as individuals and as a population.

Numerous factors are relevant to the inbreeding problem:

1. The crater walls inhibit movement: keeping the present population inside and making it easier for the patrolling males to deter the advances of would-be immigrants.

2. The high density of existing male lions, which further reduces the chances of invasion.

3. Big-game hunting prior to 1924 significantly reduced the lion population.

4. A plague of biting flies occurred in 1962: the lions faced disaster as they were so weakened that they could not hunt and numbers dropped from over 70 to about 10. An estimated 7 new males entered the undefended crater, but since then the lions have been genetically isolated.

The detailed studies of Packer and his wife show that the present 100 lions (comprising 6 prides) are all descended from 15 animals. Inbreeding has led to notable DNA similarities (representing a reduction in genetic diversity of 10% in 20 years), to the presence of defective sperm, to reductions in reproduction rates, and to reductions in the vitality of the immune system (making them susceptible to disease). Packer considers that the decimation caused by the biting flies may be linked to assaults on the immune system from inbreeding for several decades prior to 1962.

Packer, of course, has some thought-provoking comments to make about these findings. He reminds us that the protection of the World's wildlife requires a more sophisticated policy of conserving habitats. Unless care is taken, animals may be confined to small, isolated reserves which can result in the same problems for their inhabitants as Ngorongoro has for its lions. Such game reserves are not havens of rest, because the animals will be vulnerable and the different species may experience long, lingering deaths. For populations to be viable, they must not be `captives in the wild'.

It appears to me that Packer's article has implications, not only in the area of conservation, but also for evolutionary theory. One of the more popular ideas goes by the name `allopatric speciation'. The suggestion is made that evolution occurs, not in the main breeding population, but in small isolated communities: the so-called `peripheral isolates'. In these marginal groups, potential exists for genetic change which will not be diluted by contact with the main population. Now the allopatric speciation concept is sound and worthy of investigation. I have no doubts that it is relevant to speciation. However, the experience of the Ngorongoro Lions makes me ask: can allopatric speciation achieve the transformations required by evolutionary theory?

Today, peripheral isolates are considered to be populations under threat. No one is excited by the thought that these populations might be evolving rapidly to something novel! The hard facts of defective sperm, reduced reproductive rates and weakened immune systems shout `Danger!' rather than `Potential'. It seems to me that the allopatric speciation model only works when the genetic diversity of populations is high: when this diversity is innate and not dependent on the incidence of chance mutations.

If this is so, allopatric speciation can be seen as one of the mechanisms for speciation after God created the Genesis Kinds. When they were created, they possessed an enormous potential for adaptation - offering potential for different species to occupy innumerable ecological niches. Such speciation was rapid after the Great Flood, as the Earth was recolonised and as there were plenty of opportunities for peripheral isolates. The result of any speciation event is that the genetic diversity of the species is reduced. As environments change, these organisms find it hard to adapt. So extinction, rather than speciation, looms large. This is the problem faced by the lions of Ngorongoro.

Copyright � 1996 The Biblical Creation Society

The serial number of this page is S/N: BCS-03-H-26

This page was last modified 18 April 1996

Extract ID: 1415

See also

South African Broadcasting Corporation
Extract Date: March 01, 2001

Mysterious disease kills 600 animals in Ngorongoro game reserve

Article printout courtesy of the South African Broadcasting Corporation. Copyright � 2000 SABC.

A mysterious disease has killed about 600 animals in Ngorongoro Crater, the world-renowned game sanctuary in northern Tanzania. Emmanuel Chausi, an Ngorongoro wildlife official, says that some 323 buffaloes, 193 wildebeest, 69 zebras, seven rhinos, six lions, three antelopes and three hippos have died mysteriously in the crater.

He said experts from Tanzania, Kenya, South Africa and the United States were now in Ngorongoro studying the issue and a comprehensive report is expected soon.

"We don't know the cause but the problem started over nine months ago when five rhinos died, two more rhinos died last January, with early samples indicating the likelihood of the Babesiosis disease.

"Babesiosis is a condition associated with breathing difficulties in victims due to a lack of sufficient red blood cells which are vital for the oxidation process," Chausi said. He ruled out canine distemper, a condition which killed hundreds of lions in Tanzania's neighbouring Serengeti National Park in 1994. - Sapa-AFP


Article printout courtesy of the South African Broadcasting Corporation.

Copyright � 2000 SABC.

Extract ID: 3110

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Extract Author: Alpha Nuhu
Extract Date: March 1, 2001

Killer Disease Decimates Hundreds Of Animals

Copyright � 2001 Panafrican News Agency. Distributed by AllAfrica Global

American, Kenyan and South African wildlife scientists are in Tanzania to study a strange disease which has been decimating hundreds of animals in the world famous Ngorongoro Crater in the northern tourist circuit of the country.

The team of 11 researchers begun its study last week after Tanzanian wildlife authorities reported that a mysterious disease has killed at least 600 animals in the past 10 months.

Ngorongoro Crater, dubbed the Eighth Wonder of the World, is home to more than 20,000 large animals, including some of Tanzania's remaining black rhinos.

The 8,300 square-kilometre conservation area boasts of the finest blend of landscape, wildlife, people and archaeological sites in Africa.

A Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA) official said Thursday the mysterious disease had attacked 323 buffaloes, 193 wildebeests, 69 zebras, seven rhinos, six lions and four hippos since May last year.

"We don't know the cause of the animal deaths, but early samples show that it is Babesiosis (urinating red samples)," said Emmanuel Chausi.

According to expert testimony, Babesiosis is a disease that causes breathing problems due to lack of sufficient red cells which supply oxygen in animals.

In 1994, a similar peculiar disease, later identified as Canine Distemper, killed more than 2,000 lions in the world's famous Serengeti National Park, also found on the north of Tanzania.

Wildlife scientists fear that an outbreak of such strange diseases in game parks, if not immediately controlled, may wipe out the animal populations vital for the booming tourist industry in the East African country.

"We have embarked on extensive research to control these dangerous diseases to preserve our natural heritage," Chausi said.

He said the deaths of buffaloes, zebras and antelopes in the crater could be due to severe drought which hit the northern part of Tanzania last year, causing widespread food shortages among villagers surrounding the national parks.

"We suspect that prolonged drought also contributed to the deaths of some animals like buffaloes and antelopes because their carcasses were found near water sources," he said.

Extract ID: 3121

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Arusha Times
Extract Author: Arusha Times Reporters
Extract Date: March 10, 2001

Deadly insects plagued Crater

Misfortunes never come single handed. While echoes of the mysterious killer disease that has been terrorizing Ngorongoro Crater for ten months are still ringing, a fresh epidemic has just erupted and is reported to be causing more grievous harm to the wildlife.

Huge swarms of deadly biting flies known as "Stomoxys" are currently infesting the Crater, inflicting bad wounds and painful sores to the animals.

Explaining the sudden epidemic, the Principal Conservator with the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA), Emmanuel Cheusi said the flies were the result of the aftermath of the drought spell of 2000 and heavy rains of late last year and early this year.

So far the fierce Stomoxys flies are reported to have caused the deaths of six lions in the Crater, while the remaining 62 are in very bad conditions suffering from serious wounds.

Cheusi pointed out that, a similar epidemic occurred in 1962 when the extensive drought of 1961, followed by heavy rains of 1962 brought the first outbreak of Stomoxys flies whose attacks on the animals resulted into the death of over 67 lions.

From then, Ngorongoro had to do with only 8 lions a number which slowly increased to 68 by the year 1999.

Another outbreak of Stomoxys came with the aftermath of El-Nino/La-nina weather spells, when heavy rains and dry spells in the Simanjiro district brought forth the deadly insects which claimed the lives of both livestock and wildlife in the area.

While NCAA in conjunction with various experts are currently making efforts to save the ailing lions, fresh reports from the area has told this paper that, lions - the most affected species of wildlife - have mysteriously disappeared from the Crater, probably hiding from the deadly insect bites.

Ngorongoro Crater has also been experiencing mass deaths of animals whereby for the past ten months begin May 2000. A total of 604 animals have died under mysterious causes.

The dead animals includes 323 buffaloes, 193 wildebeests, 69 zebras, three hippopotamus, five rhinoceros and six lions.

The animals were first suspected to have died from either Theileria or Babesiosis disease but blood samples taken for laboratory tests have proved otherwise.

More blood samples have been sent for further tests in Holland and South Africa, but until going to press, results were yet to be announced.

Extract ID: 3123

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BBC internet news
Extract Author: Andrew Harding
Extract Date: 16 March, 2001

Bloodsucker flies torment lions

Nairobi, Kenya

Lions in Tanzania are being driven to an early grave by swarms of bloodthirsty flies.

The flies have been particularly prevalent in one of the world's most famous wildlife parks, the Ngorongoro Crater.

There, the blood-sucking insects are literally pestering the lions to death.

The big cats are so traumatized by the experience that they forget to eat, and spend all their time trying to hide, climbing up trees and crouching in long grass.

They are, as one conservation official put it, dying of trauma.

So far, at least six lions are reported to have been killed by the flies in the Ngorongoro Crater - a spectacular wildlife reserve set in the middle of an old volcano.

The flies are a breed called stomoxys - they have sharp tubes sticking out of their mouths, which they use to suck blood.

They have been attacking the lions' open wounds, causing considerable pain.

The flies' numbers are believed to increase rapidly when there is an extreme climate change. After a long drought, it has been raining heavily in the park.

Intervention unlikely

Scientists from around the world have been helping the Tanzanian authorities to identify and deal with the problem.

But these are not farm animals, and wildlife officials say they are reluctant to intervene with pesticides or any other treatment.

They argue that the laws of nature should be allowed to take their course - the survival of the fittest.

In fact, the flies are not the only menace to larger animals in the Ngorongoro Crater.

Since May last year, hundreds of buffalos, dozens of zebras, five rhinos and three hippos have reportedly died in mysterious circumstances.

A disease called east coast fever, and another called Babesiosis are suspected.

Extract ID: 3127