Maneless lions live one guy per pride

Lions in Kenya’s Tsavo East National Park already stand out because the males there don’t grow manes. Now an analysis of family life reveals another oddity: Unlike other lions, sizable clusters of Tsavo females live with a sole male lion.

MAIN LION. Despite Hollywood biology, a male Tsavo lion has no mane. J. Weinstein/Field Museum

Elsewhere, investigators have found coalitions of two to four males with a female group. Yet Roland Kays, now of the New York State Museum in Albany, and his colleague observed in Tsavo five groups of about seven females each with lone males.

This arrangement could yield clues about mane formation, the researchers say in the March Canadian Journal of Zoology. For example, the Tsavo males may be particularly rich in testosterone, which could trigger a male lion’s version of baldness–manelessness–as well as aggressiveness that precludes coalitions among males, speculates coauthor Bruce Patterson of the Field Museum in Chicago.

Tsavo lions achieved fame in 1996 with the release of The Ghost and the Darkness, a movie based on real lions that killed some 130 people, but the Hollywood lions had manes.

Susan Milius is the life sciences writer, covering organismal biology and evolution, and has a special passion for plants, fungi and invertebrates. She studied biology and English literature.

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