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08/06/2013 12:11 pm ET

Inside The Short Life Of The Serengeti Lion (PHOTOS)

National Geographic takes readers inside the world-famous Serengeti National Park in its August issue for a striking glimpse at the life of the Serengeti lion.

Much of what we know about the African lion comes from a study in Serengeti National Park, beginning in the 1960s and still continuing today. Home to the largest migration of land animals on the planet, Jane Goodman has called the Serengeti one of the seven wonders of the world.

In the feature story, readers follow C-Boy, a dark-maned Serengeti lion, as he dodges death and navigates lion society. As the story explains:

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.

Check out the gorgeous photos, taken by Michael Nichols for National Geographic, below:

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This is C-Boy. “Mostly lions die because they kill each other,” explains leading lion researcher Craig Packer. “The number one cause of death for lions, in an undisturbed environment, is other lions.”

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C-Boy and a Vumbi female relax between matings.

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Hildur, C-Boy’s partner, frequently makes a long run to visit the Simba East pride. A coalition that controls two prides must maintain vigilance over both.

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Cubs of the Simba East pride: too young to kill but old enough to crave meat. Adult females, and sometimes males, do the hunting. Zebras and wildebeests rank high as chosen prey in the rainy season.

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A female wrangles her infant cubs. During the first few weeks, when they’re too young for the competitive jumble among older cubs in the pride and so vulnerable to predators, she keeps them hidden away in a den. But these will soon join the group. Half of all cubs die before age two.

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Older cubs like these Vumbi youngsters are raised together as a crèche, or nursery group. Pride females, united in the cause of rearing a generation, nurse and groom their own and others’ offspring.

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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.

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Dry season is hard on everyone. Vumbi females, stressed and fiercely protective of their young, get cross with C-Boy, though he’s one of the resident fathers.

To see more photos of Serengti lions, pick up the August issue of National Georgraphic.

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