Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Becoming King: Why So Few Male Lions Survive to Adulthood

The first sight of wild lions is stirring, for a number of reasons. The cubs themselves are adorable, but the adults — each of which easily outweighs an offensive linemen and sports paws the size of small dinner plates — elicit a sort of tense wonder consisting of awe, respect for these powerful beasts, and something resembling fear but more like an awareness of one's mortality. They could easily kill us. But there are no words in the moment besides exclamations of disbelief.
But none of that matters to the lions, who live on this land and don't seem to pay any attention to visitors, driven about in a couple of Toyota Land Cruisers that are completely open to the air, no windows for separation.
The lion cubs seem happy and carefree, but their lives are not easy. Only about 1 in 8 male lions survive to adulthood, Dereck said.

Tough childhood
All lions face high mortality as cubs, for a variety of reasons, including injuries, lack of food, illness and being killed by adult lions — more on that later. But when male lions begin to reach sexual maturity around age 2, the older males within the pride kick them out, Dereck said. The female lions, which are usually all related to some degree, typically stay behind.