Five lionesses at the Moremi Game Reserve in Botswana have grown manes and are exhibiting typical male lion behavior—including trying to mate with other lionesses and killing lion cubs.
Geoffrey D. Gilfillan at the University of Sussex and his colleagues recently reported their observations of these lionesses in the African Journal of Ecology.
Five lionesses displayed manes, with scientists focusing on one lioness called SaF05.
“While SaF05 is mostly female in her behavior—staying with the pride, mating males—she also has some male behaviors, such as increased scent-marking and roaring, as well as mounting other females,” said Gilfallan.
Although other females also exhibit these behaviors, “they usually do so less frequently,” continued Gilfallan. “SaF05, however, was much more male-like in her behavior, regularly scent-marking and roaring.”
SaF05 was also observed mounting female lionesses on seven different occasions—a behavior not seen in maneless lionesses. The objects of SaF05’s affections were either ignored or met with aggression.
There may also be some benefit to having the maned lionesses in the pride—they can help when competing with other prides. SaF05 once brought down a zebra. A neighboring pride stole the zebra, and in return she killed two of their cubs. This behavior is common in males, but extremely uncommon in females.
Scientists speculate that SaF05 and her counterparts exhibit these unusual traits and characteristics due to an excess of testosterone. In lions, the production of testosterone is