A family at risk

In Ngorongoro Crater we found some lions lying in tall grass. The first lion is emaciated. See how the rear haunches are hollow and sunken.

emaciated lion
emaciated lion

The second lion is a female in good condition.


A third lion was on the other side of the tall grass.  This lion is also in bad shape — see the ribs showing.

emaciated lion with ribs showing
emaciated lion with ribs showing

In the afternoon we returned and saw a male lion by the same tall grass. From viewing the original image, the dark spots on his leg and side are sores and flies.

male lion by tall grass
male lion by tall grass

Our guide thinks that the female lion is the mother of the two other lions. We were surprised by the poor condition of the lions, especially since the crater floor has a high density of animals for the lions to hunt. Our guide was so concerned about the lions that he asked park rangers to look at them.

We researching this at home. In this 2004 BBC article,

“In large carnivores like lions, one might expect food supply to be the main limiting factor. But in recent years, disease is a more likely restriction, according to Bernard Kissui and Craig Packer, of the University Minnesota, US.

There are probably enough prey animals like buffalo in the Ngorongoro Crater to support about 120 lions.

But at various times over the last 40 years lion numbers have dropped well below that – and in the last 10 years there have rarely been more than 60 in the crater.

Kissui and Packer believe that disease is the biggest culprit in this population dip.

In 1962, the crater lion population crashed from about 100 to 12, which coincided with an outbreak of blood-sucking stable flies.”

From Parker’s study of Ngorognoro lions, “large swarms of adult Stomoxys became common throughout the Crater floor and the lions appeared to be a preferred host. The emaciated lions developed devastating skin infections and were unable to hunt their normal prey. By June 1962, the population had dropped to 10-15 animals.”

Lions brought down and killed by blood-sucking flies. Wow! We did notice biting flies, biting the back of your hand while you’re holding still, ready to take a picture when the subject animal turns its head.


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I enjoy travel, art, food, photography, nature, California native plants, history, and yoga. I am a retired software engineer. The gravatar is a Nuttall's woodpecker that visited our backyard.

7 thoughts on “A family at risk”

  1. Such a shame to see animals in poor condition – the lions we saw in Tanzania were thriving, but we were there in May when there seems to be an abundance of most things.

    The flies you might have experienced are tsetse flies. They are little blighters attracted by certain colours – you might have seen the tsetse fly traps up in the park. They carry sleeping sickness to humans so best to avoid all bites you can. And they hurt a bit too!


      1. Yeah – weirdly they seemed to bite people less that stayed still, but some were more zealous than others. Murchison Falls National Park was a park sort of created by tsetse flies. They were so aggressive and made so many people suck they had to clear the area of people. Good news for the wildlife, if they could deal with the flies that is!


  2. Dear Charly280

    are you aware that your archive photographs are misused in this way: http://www.wideopenspaces.com/cecil-lion-shamers-discouraged-10000000-lion-conservation-funding/
    Or did this Gentleman, the author, David Smith have your permission?

    We are very concerned about such lias spread with probably stolen pictures! We have proove from others websites that he misused their pictures. I would appreciate your response on behalf of our members and supporters.

    Georg Kloeble

    Chairman, Wildlife Action Group International e.V.

    Muenstererstr. 2b
    65779 Kelkheim, Germany


    1. Thank you, Georg. I had no idea. The author, David Smith, did not ask for my permission. I posted a comment on his Facebook page saying that he used my photo without my permission and asking that he remove my photograph.


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