For Valentine’s Day, Panthera Lion Program Director Dr. Paul Funston answered some burning questions for PantheraTV LIVE about the unique social habits of lions based on his decades of observations of these fascinating felines.
Why do lions live in groups? Scientists now believe that lions live in groups, called prides, to defend their territories against other lions. This is necessary because lions usually live near a lot of other lions, which creates more competition for prey. In the past, it was thought they lived in prides to efficiently hunt large prey, but prides do not seem to be any more efficient than single lions at hunting.
Why do lions have manes? A lion’s mane shows lionesses that it is a strong and suitable mate. In fact, females will often select for darker manes over blonder ones as a sign of strength.
What is the relationship between a male lion and a lioness? A male and a female will go through a period of “consorting” for a few days before they mate. Once the cubs are born, males will spend about 80% of their time patrolling the territory: roaring, scent-marking and just making themselves present to show other males that they should not mess with the females or cubs of the pride. Once cubs are safe from infanticide (when they are killed by an outsider male) at about 24 months, male lions often leave the pride to find another mate because the female he was with won’t be able to reproduce for another year.
How are prides organized? There are usually two males in a pride that share equal duties and power (no lion king here!) and they are dedicated to protecting the pride. There are several females in a pride who raise cubs and hunt. Amazingly, there is little sign of a hierarchy between the females of the pride (though older and younger females take different roles during a hunt).
How can I help save lions? Support Panthera and our partners as we study lions and protect them from their gravest threats. You can also educate family and friends about the plight of lions and advocate for more resources for national parks and the end of the lion bone trade.