Saturday, November 19, 2011

Lion- The King of the Beasts?

Hi there, sorry I've been so remiss in posting but it's been a busy year!

I have just got back from an excellent  marketing trip to Singapore and Hong Kong where I delivered a presentation entitled "Africa's Eden's" about the Okavango and Serengeti which was warmly received. One of the things I touched on in that presentation was the role of dominant male lions because I am getting tired of the misinformation, parroted by successive wildlife documentary's, about how the dominant male lions don't pull their weight! They do, indeed, not usually extend themselves while hunting with the pride, unless their superior strength is required, and they may take "the lions share" at the kill but these creatures are hardly idle.

If you analyse the demographic of any wild lion population you will find that females outnumber the males by 70% to 30% and yet they are statistically born in the ratio of 50/50 so there is something going on! Young males are booted out of the pride as soon as they attain sexual maturity and become, what we call "ittinerent males", that wander far and wide for the next 5 years of their life, without the support of the pride. This prevents inbreeding and is a necessary "stirring" of the genetic pot that serves to spread genetic material far and wide as these males often end up taking up residence hundreds of miles from where they originated. During their wanderings they are not tolerated by the dominant males in any of the territories they cross and are often driven out of the reserve's altogether where they face other dangers- coming into conflict with humans usually as a result of predating on livestock. For many years they hunt for themselves and if they get injured while hunting, (a common occurrence), without the support of the pride, they will starve to death, ultimately falling prey to the hyena's- a grizzly fate indeed. If they survive this furnace of natural selection they still have to challenge an existing resident male in single combat,  a sight and sound you are unlikely to ever forget if you are luckey enough to witness it, and IF they survive that encounter and emerge victorious then, and only then, can they can claim their rightful place with their new pride.

This is a seemingly wasteful process as only a small fraction of males will make it through this gauntlet to emerge triumphant at the end but it is, the very forge, of genetic fitness. Every female is valuable to the species provided she can bear offspring but most males are surplus to requirement- you really just require one! It makes sense that the brutal process, first described by Charles Darwin, should find it's focus among the males of the population, putting them through the mill of natural selection in the knowledge that only the fittest will survive and emerge to pass on their genes.

So just to set the record straight then- the male lion you might encounter on safari is no indolent playboy as the documentary makers have cast him but rather the toughest, fastest, meanest, strongest, stone killer of an entire generation of tough, fast, mean, strong, stone killers who were themselves sired by the best of the previous generation. Stretching back 500 000 years, this process has crafted that one lion into a supreme predator and we should count ourselves fortunate to be in the presence of a creature, forged in the crucible of evolution into the ultimate killing machine. We should not be complacent that the 250 kilograms of sinuous muscle and bone- red in tooth and claw may look like an overgrown tabby cat- he is anything but!

2 comments:

  1. Hi Russell,

    Very enlightening perspective!

    And a great reminder both that:
    1- each creature (ourselves included) has a well defined and specific role to play in life, and
    2 - that far too often, humans tend to see someone at the top, and say negative things about their luxury, rather than to take a closer look and notice the daily steps that were taken, the hardships endured and the challenges that were overcome, that allowed that creature (animal or otherwise) to get to that position.

    A great read. Looking forward to your next blog ;-)

    Cheers,
    Michèle

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  2. Hi Russell,

    Great blog, will be in touch soon, thanks for everything!

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