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Studying Lions

Our lion scientist, Paola Bouley, spends long days and nights tracking, documenting and understanding the social structure, behavior, range and trends of our lions.  Studying the population in detail involves identifying and aging all of the lions she encounters and tracking births, deaths, mating, reproduction and human impacts on their survival such as loss of habitat, snaring, poaching and disease transmission from domestic animals. 


We tracked down Paola and asked her about her work:


How do you track lions?  Lions are notoriously difficult to study, especially in the complex and diverse savannah ecosystem that dominates the Gorongosa landscape.  We track lions on foot or by vehicle, through reports from rangers and tourists, and by noting vulture activity over kill sites, by sound (listening for their locations at night) and also using technology like satellite collars, which reveal detailed information on the daily movements of lions.


How do you identify individual lions?  Each lion has a unique pattern of whisker-spots on each side of its face.  And just like a human fingerprint, no two whisker-spot patterns are the same and they don't change over time.  By using photos (including photos taken by visitors to the Park) we are able to definitively identify lions. Park visitors can help me and participate in their own lion research by sharing their lion photos with us.   Share your photo to contribute.


How do you tell the age of the lions?  If I am fortunate enough to observe lions from the time they are able to first walk and socialize with their pride, I can track their age accurately over the years.  Otherwise, I rely on an array of features such as body size and coloration, mane size, tooth condition and a technique of assessing age using individual nose coloration.  A lion is born with a pink nose and as it ages the lion's nose becomes increasingly pigmented (also in a unique pattern for each lion), eventually turning all black.