March 18, 2013
Despite Stereotypes, Male Lions Actually Do A Little Work After All
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
As lazy as they may come off on nature channels, male lions actually are hunters and are quite successful at it, according to a new study published in Animal Behavior.
Female lions are known for their hunting ability and have been observed by scientists to rely on cooperative strategies to tackle their prey. However, the latest research shows males are just as equipped to snag dinner.
Authors of the paper wrote that male lions use dense savanna vegetation for ambush-style hunting in Africa, which was a theory difficult to study and prove.
For the study, Carnegie Institution's Scott Loarie and Greg Asner and University of Pretoria's Craig Tambling created 3D maps with a Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) scanner mounted on a Carnegie Airborne Observatory (CAO) aircraft of the savanna vegetation using laser pulses that swept across the African plains. Afterwards, they combined these 3D habitat maps with GPS data of predatory-prey interactions from a pride of seven lions in South Africa's Kruger National Park to quantify the lines of sight where lions did their killing in comparison to where they rested.
The team found while preference for shade caused both male and female lions to rest in areas with dense vegetation, the real differences between the two came at night during the hunts. Female lions rested and hunted under the cover of darkness in areas with large view-shields, while male lions hunted in dense vegetation.
The results show that ambushing prey from behind vegetation is linked to hunting success among male lions, despite lacking the cooperative strategies female lions use in open grassy savannas.
"By strongly linking male lion hunting behavior to dense vegetation, this study suggests that changes to vegetation structure, such as through fire management, could greatly alter the balance of predators and prey," Loarie said.
The researchers say their findings will be confirmed through future studies of Africa's savannas, but add their results could have major implications for park management.
"With large mammals increasingly confined to protected areas, understanding how to maintain their habitat to best support their natural behavior is a critical conservation priority," Asner said.
Scientists reported in Ecology Letters earlier this month that half of Africa's lion population could be facing extinction levels over the next 20 to 40 years. The team used historical data from eleven African countries and examined the lion population densities and trends in both fenced and unfenced habitats. They found fenced reserves could maintain lions at 80 percent of their potential densities, compared to about 50 percent for unfenced reserves.
The team said as the numbers of people and their livestock continue to grow in Africa, it is essential to scale up programs that reduce conflict with both humans and lions in African landscapes.