National Geographic's amazing photos show intimate life of Africa's lions

lions photo
© Michael Nichols/National Geographic

I just finished reading my August issue of National Geographic, and it has some phenomenal coverage of Africa's lions -- an iconic species that is rapidly disappearing. Photographer Michael "Nick" Nichols spent months on the Serengeti and used a variety of camera gear and techniques to get up-close-and-personal images of these amazing cats without disturbing their behavior. The results are worth that effort. Check out some of the images featured in the issue:

© Michael Nichols/National Geographic
Large cubs of the Vumbi pride and a grown female (fifth from left) feast on a wildebeest. The darkest, moonless hours are prime hunting time because the cats can see better than their prey. These black-and-white photographs were made with infrared light to minimize disruption to the lions.

© Michael Nichols/National Geographic
Lions kill lions. C-Boy, defending his interests, confronts that peril on a daily (and nightly) basis.

© Michael Nichols/National Geographic
C-Boy and a Vumbi female relax between matings. During estrus a female may be monopolized for days by a single male consort. Dark manes correlate with robustness, and dark-maned studs like C-Boy are preferred.

© Michael Nichols/National Geographic
The Vumbi females—their pride name is Swahili for “dust”—kill a warthog they’ve dragged from its burrow. Such small meals help bridge the lean, hungry, dry season, when cubs may otherwise starve.

Just simply amazing photos. Here's a bit from the article about these beautiful and unique felines:

Tigers are solitary. Cougars are solitary. No leopard wants to associate with a bunch of other leopards. The lion is the only feline that’s truly social, living in prides and coalitions, the size and dynamics of which are determined by an intricate balance of evolutionary costs and benefits.

Why has social behavior, lacking in other cats, become so important in this one? Is it a necessary 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. The park had its origin as a smaller game reserve under the British colonial government in the 1920s and was established formally in 1951. The greater ecosystem, 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 management regimes (including the Ngorongoro Conservation Area) along the east, and a transboundary extension (the Masai Mara National Reserve) in Kenya. In addition to the migratory herds, there are populations of hartebeests, topi, reedbuck, waterbuck, eland, impalas, buffalo, warthogs, and other herbivores living less peripatetic 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.

These images are from 'The Serengeti Lion' on National Geographic's website at ngm.com/serengeti-lion, where you can find out more details about the lions. Or, of course, go pick up an issue of this month's NatGeo. It looks like this:

© National Geographic

Tags: Animals | Conservation | Photography

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