Choosing the Right Lion
Choosing the Right Lion
by Petri Viljoen
The lion is one of the principal trophy species sought by safari hunters and therefore the continued presence of lions in hunting areas is critically important to the safari industry. Lions have a complex social behaviour that places them at relatively high risk for being over-exploited in the absence of sound population management strategies.
Lions have a unique social organization and behaviour is unique, particularly co-operative behavior. It differs from that of other members of the cat family, which are not distinctly social. A lion pride is the basic unit consisting of resident females accompanied by their off-spring, and adult males, the pride males, which share an area, the territory and interact with minimum aggression. Females may be recruited into the pride. A lion pride is not a cohesive social unit as not all members are together all the time. Lion groups could therefore either be a sub-group of a pride or all the members of a pride together. Sub-adult females may remain in the pride for their entire existence but some leave the pride. However young male lions leave the pride at about three years of age and on reaching maturity may become pride males of another pride by expelling the pride males.
Following a pride-takeover, pairs of males will remain with the pride for an average period of 18 months while male coalitions will maintain pride tenure for periods of over 40 months. Cubs may be killed by the new pride males, thereby reducing the time before the offspring of the new males are born, thus increasing the reproductive success of the new males. During this period the pride males have exclusive mating opportunities with the pride females. Males defend their ranges from male intruders and females from females. Females in a pride tend to come into estrus simultaneously and give birth synchronously. Litters are therefore borne at approximately the same time and are thereafter raised communally. Infanticide could therefore potentially affect a range of cubs of various ages from several females. A male lion is sexually mature from about two years of age, but not fully adult until about four. Males may continue to grow until about seven or eight years and their manes are usually not fully developed until about five or six years. Because lions are non seasonal breeders and also highly infanticidal they complicate management strategies. The effect of selective removal of specific individuals presents a real challenge to the effective management of lion populations. The annual removal of some adult male lion may in some situations be advantageous, but in others detrimental to specific lion populations. For example, the removal of non-resident aged males may reduce male-male competition and therefore result in increased territorial male tenure and cub survival. However, removal of resident (or territorial) male lions may potentially disrupt the social system, leading to increased rates of infanticide, and occupation of territories by immature males with resultant reduced reproduction.
To minimize the potential effect of selective removal of males during safari hunts, TGTS/WWS have for several years implemented a strategy as far as the hunting of lion is concerned. The positive results of this strategy are now seen.