How do you become a #RealLifeLionKing, field researcher, wildlife filmmaker and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Beverly Joubert asked the other day, on her Facebook page.
As might be expected, the truth is both more interesting — and yet similar in a lot of ways — than any Disney movie.
Be nice to your brothers, Joubert counsels. “We know they are irritating and it’s the best fun to pull their tails and toss them off their castle-like termite mounds, but male lions that have a coalition with their brothers win fights.”
Joubert, who’s earned her stripes — literally; she was nailed by a buffalo and almost gored to death two years ago in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, where she and her filmmaker life-partner Dereck Joubert have made their home for the past 25 years — cites studies that show that when two lion kings are confronted by four or more would-be young usurpers to the throne, the younger lions often win, even though they may lack the individual strength, wisdom, knowledge and life experience of the older lions.
A real life lion king knows how to find the shade. Male lions, kings, princes and challengers to the throne alike have large manes — much larger than the Asiatic lions — and if they could sweat (they can’t) they’d be dripping wet. Male lions, on average, are about 12% hotter than females, Joubert says. They sleep a lot during the day — 16 hours, on average — and even while awake, they pant constantly as a way of moderating their body temperature.
Real life lion kings know to treat their sisters and aunts with respect. Male lions, Joubert notes, “usually wake up around meal times, which is when the ladies might have killed something.”
And this is key. For all Hollywood’s press publicity machine about lion kings, the Disney kind and the real kind you might find in the Serengeti and Maasai Mara, it’s no lie that females make better hunters, even though they’re smaller, considerably in some cases.
Yet again, science makes the best explainer. As wildlife researcher Stefan Pociask explained last year to Forbes, via Quora, lionesses are about 30% faster, both off the ground and over long distances. Lionesses often top out at 45 mph; lions, at best, manage 35 mph. Lionesses hunt by stalking. Lions, on the other hand, rely on their strength; they’re called on when the prey is big and tough, like a buffalo. Most lionesses can’t handle a buffalo on their own. Also, lions kill using their jaws, to bite down and suffocate their intended victim, or by biting through the skull. Even sizeable lions can take an awful beating when trying to bring down a buffalo. Lionesses are most effective during the annual wildebeest and zebra migrations, but even a coalition of lionesses would be wary around a buffalo.
Lions use their manes for territorial display, but manes can be an awful impediment for alone male on the hunt, which is why older males that have been ejected from the pride often die a lonely and hungry death. Lionesses are lithe and tend to blend in with their surroundings, but lions resemble a giant haystack when trying to stalk in broad daylight. (It’s probably no coincidence, though it’s a matter of intense controversy and debate, that the infamous Tsavo man-eating lions that, incredibly, killed and devoured 31 railroad workers over a 10 month period during the ill-fated construction of the Mombasa-to-Uganda rail line in East Africa in 1898, were maneless.)
If you want to do more than simply take in another Hollywood movie, Joubert suggests that you check out #FutureLionKings https://greatplainsfoundation.com/lionking/ .
Lions face an uncertain future in the wild. Whether male newborns survive to become king is often the luck of the draw, Joubert says.
“Try to be born where there is no lion hunting. Around 560 lions are legally allowed to be hunted each year in Africa, so as you grow up — depending on which country you’re in, and if you are a male — the odds are not in your favour. Only about one in eight male lions who are born actually make it to being King.”