Do ousted male lions lose their manes?
September 27, 2011 6:25 AM   Subscribe

I was reading a book to my son (Face to face with Lions from National Geographic) and found a very interesting statement about male lions that our ousted from their Pride. According to this book, a male lion averages only 3-4 years as a leader of a pride, before a younger lion comes in and kicks out the old guard. The book says that the old pride leader then tends to lose his mane, making him look more feminine, which helps him be able to stick around with his pride, without confusing anyone as to who the real leader is now.

So my wife and I found this very interesting. A week or so later we go to the zoo, and while looking at the lion, my wife mentions this to the zoo guide. She looks at us very strangely and says she's never heard this before. I assumed the guide was just some retiree that learned some animal facts and walks around the zoo and didn't really know anything.

So we go home, and start looking around the internet for more info. And we can't find it. So now we're wondering, is this National Geographic book wrong? We're both a little saddened by the idea that this intriguing detail of pride life may me made up. But why would National Geographic make that up? It seems like, to make that claim, it would need to be pretty well documented...

So we've written the publisher, but not heard back, and I figured I'd use the power of the Filter to see if anyone else had ever heard of this, or if you knew of info on it.

Thanks for your help!
posted by toekneebullard to Science & Nature (5 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Well, a quick poke around says that temperature/environment etc. has a lot more to do with the quality of lion manes; but so does a drop in testosterone or recovery from injury. A wiki answer led to this (awwwww!), about how neutered male lions not having manes. So, I would say, though I never heard of it before now, that it sounds right that a lion would lose more of his mane after a shift in pride position for reasons of injury and testosterone loss (in not needing to defend his place any longer) - but I don't see anything else that posits that it's also to keep a place in the pride.
posted by peagood at 6:45 AM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I found a reference to lions shedding their manes after a loss in combat here: Ghosts of Tsavo: Stalking the Mystery Lions of East Africa.
posted by General Tonic at 6:50 AM on September 27, 2011

You could try contacting the writers. Googling their names yields many interesting links and a TED talk. They apparently are part-owners of a camp in a wildlife preserve.
posted by mareli at 6:57 AM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

What about talking to an actual zookeeper/zoologist at the zoo, or a zoology professor at a local university?
posted by Sara C. at 8:37 AM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've vaguely heard about this. THE Zoologist to read up on is Craig Packer. "Packer's lions"

In particular, mane research:

Though I haven't read research on this specifically, My guess is it's very plausible, as there are multiple examples in the literature of social dominance and changes in reproductive hormones, in this case testosterone. Dominant males or females (depending on the kind of social structure) can repress hormones in their subordinates through harassment and other behaviors. This is hypothesized to increase reproductive success.

Though zoos are overall great educational resources, sometimes complex social behaviors don't manifest themselves quite like they do in the wild. Since there isn't a greater population of lions to pull from, there won't be any new younger males to take over the pride. So there is a good chance the zoo person had no idea. (As an aside, a zoo I know has a fantastic orangutang exhibit, with many orangutangs. Problems is, orangutangs aren't really social. They end up keeping the entire lot of them on prozac to so they can deal with being so close together.)

So I think reading up on Packer and his student's work would be a great start. Mind you, googling "Packer and Lions" will get you a bunch of football results. I would start with his research homepage above.
posted by Maude_the_destroyer at 12:42 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

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