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You Win or You Die: Real-life Threats to the Animal Icons on ‘Game of Thrones’

By Jen Shook of National Geographic’s Research, Conservation and Exploration Grant Programs

The battling families on Game of Thrones, the HBO series based on George R.R. Martin’s books, feature an assortment of animals on their medieval-style crests. While the houses in the series are vying for a seat of power, their real-world animal counterparts are fighting for survival. Our explorers are working to raise awareness and protect these species before time runs out.

Dragon (House Targaryen)

National Geographic Young Explorers grantee Chris Broeckhoven studies a modern-day “dragon”—the armadillo lizard—which has evolved an excellent defense of heavy armor and the ability to roll into a ball by biting its own tail. The lizard is still vulnerable, however. Food loss due to farming and grazing activities in the Succulent Karoo Biome, as well as population decline from illegal collection for the pet trade, threaten this species.

A group of armadillo lizards in South Africa. Image by Chris Broeckhoven.
A group of armadillo lizards rests on rocks in South Africa. (Photo by Chris Broeckhoven)

 

Wolf (House Stark)

Summer is coming for the wolves of Isle Royale National Park in the United States. Warmer weather means less ice, allowing unrelated wolves from the mainland to bring in new genes, so this unique pack is dwindling rapidly. National Geographic grantee Rolf Peterson is studying how to save this population in a changing ecosystem.

A wolf looks over the cold landscape as Rolf Peterson researches wolf populations and ecology in Michigan, United States. Image by John Vucetich/National Geographic Creative.
A wolf looks over the cold landscape as Rolf Peterson researches wolf populations and ecology in Michigan, United States. (Photo by Rolf Peterson/National Geographic Creative)

 

Lion (House Lannister)

Lions are threatened by poaching, snares, and human-predator conflict. National Geographic Emerging Explorer Shivani Bhalla is a fourth-generation Kenyan, a biologist, and the founder of the Ewaso Lions project. Ewaso Lions works together with local communities in Kenya to advance lion conservation. Programs promote human-carnivore coexistence, provide education, and build local capacity for wildlife rangers and community rangers.

A robot car captures an adult male lion at rest in the Serengeti plains. Image by Michael Nichols/National Geographic Creative.
A camera mounted on a remote-controlled car captures an adult male lion at rest in the Serengeti plains. (Photo by Michael Nichols/National Geographic Creative)

 

Stag (House Baratheon)

Logging in Transylvania, Romania, threatens the Carpathian ecosystem, home to many roe deer. National Geographic grantee Victoria Hillman and her team are working to document this region, through camera traps and data plotting, to better understand and protect the vulnerable wildlife of the region.

A Roe Deer seen in the Romanian Forest. Victoria Hillman cataloging wildlife in Transylvania. Image by Victoria Hillman/National Geographic Creative.
A roe deer peeks out of a Romanian Forest. (Photo by Victoria Hillman/National Geographic Creative)

 

Fish (House Tully)

National Geographic grantee and photographer Paul Colangelo is documenting the eulachon fish, which was traditionally an important food source for coastal First Nations of British Columbia, Canada. Eulachon have suffered drastic declines, completely disappearing from many rivers. First Nation communities are researching why the fish populations have declined and how they might be saved.

Also known as candlefish, eulachon (Thaleichthys pacificus) are so oily that they can ignite when dried. Traditionally, eulachon were used at times as lights by Nisga'a people. Image By Paul Colangelo/National Geographic Creative
Also known as candlefish, eulachon (Thaleichthys pacificus) are so oily that they can ignite when dried. Traditionally, eulachon were used at times as lights by Nisga’a people. (Photo by Paul Colangelo/National Geographic Creative)

 

While the battle for the Iron Throne continues in the fictional Seven Kingdoms, we can all help write a happy ending for these species in our real-life animal kingdom. Learn more about our grants and how to apply for funding.