Young Tom Of Tanzania
I want to share with you the true story of Young Tom of Tanzania, a magnificent male lion living in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA), famous for its volcanoes and the ancient Olduvai Gorge. This is a story of survival.
Ngorongoro is renowned not just for its geography, but for its stunning wildlife. It is here that the great annual migration of over one million wildebeest, zebra, gazelle and other herbivores takes place across Tanzania’s Serengeti plains, to Kenya’s Masai Mara region, and back.
Because there are so many ungulate (hooved) prey in this region, there is also a healthy population of lions. The international wild cat conservation organisation Panthera, based in New York and London, helps the Serengeti Lion Project, at work in the region since 1966, to protect Ngorongoro’s lions. This is a story about one of those lions, and a female Panthera conservationist named Ingela Jansson, who works to monitor the numbers and well-being of the region’s lions, and their interactions with local Masai communities.
Ingela Jansson was closely monitoring the ‘Thin’ lion pride in the conservation area’s Ndutu region several years ago, when she discovered that 11 new cubs had been born, including a beautiful male named “Young Tom” by the local people. Unfortunately, Young Tom was the only cub of the 11 to survive past the age of one. Young Tom’s 10-year-old father was the only male fathering cubs with the Ndutu region’s three prides, and Young Tom was accepted by the ‘Thin’ pride. When he reached physical and sexual maturity, Young Tom joined his father in defending and siring cubs within the three prides.
Last October, Ingela and her staff were notified that an injured male lion had been seen lying under a tree in the Ngorongoro’s Hugo Valley area. Rushing to the spot, Ingela found Young Tom with a large gash in his stomach. They watched in dismay as the young lion, disturbed by their arrival, struggled to his feet, walked away from them shakily, and sank back down to the ground.
Photograph courtesy Swissfrog/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain.
The NCA authorities were alerted, and they quickly sent a veterinarian. Together with Ingela, NCA staff and rangers, the vet anesthetised Young Tom and began to treat his wounds. It became clear that they had been caused by a spear, which had travelled through his back and out the other side of his body. By this time, the wounds were infected, and it was unsafe to stitch them up. The vet gave Young Tom an antibiotic injection, cleaned his injuries, and applied an antibiotic spray to them. While Young Tom was asleep, the team took blood, saliva, tissue and fecal samples to test for exposure to diseases and parasites. They measured his hormonal levels, examined his DNA, took photographic records of his teeth, and measured him, adding all of this valuable data to the Serengeti Lion Project’s lion demography database. Then they weighed Young Tom (146 kg.), affixed a GPS collar around his neck so that they could track his movements, and waited for him to wake up from the anesthesia.
Young Tom did wake up. After a three-day recovery under the watchful eyes of Ingela and the NCA team, he was released, and slowly made his way back to his pride. Since that time, his wounds have healed with no sign of infection, and he has rejoined his father as co-patriarch of the Ndutu area. In the coming months, the Serengeti Lion Project Team will continue to monitor Young Tom, who is now nearly four years old, and will collar and track five more lions in order to learn about their behaviour and needs and interaction with the local people.
I hope that this big-hearted lion will continue to thrive, and that Ingela and her colleagues will be able to persuade the Masai communities to lay down their spears, and live side-by-side with the magnificent big cats of these ancient African plains.
Author: Jennifer Scarlott, First appeared in: Sanctuary Cub, March 2013.