Girls just wanna have fun

20 06 2011

Play is an important part of the lion behavioural repertoire, with social play serving as a means to establish bonds and cement kinship between individuals, bringing cohesion to the whole pride.  Cubs are the most playful and females will play throughout adulthood.  Males tend to lose much of their interest in the sport from around three years old.

Our pride is no exception, although we are noticing marked differences between levels of playfulness between individuals.  Given AT1’s propensity for play, we have removed her data from our calculations.  Below shows the likelihood that social play will be initiated by a particular pride member, as well as whether they are the object of that initiated play behaviour.

We can see that our youngest adult females, Nala and Narnia, are the most likely to initiate social play.  They also rank highly as the object of play because 52% of Narnia’s initiated play will be towards her sister, whilst Nala chooses to play with her sister 38% of the time.  Surprisingly most play is initiated towards Milo (who initiates the least).  He is also quite happy to engage in play having rejected such advances on only 12% of occasions.

Other strong preferences for who to initiate social play behaviour with are: 38% of Ashanti’s play is initiated towards Phyre, 42% of Athena’s and 42% of Kwali’s play is also initiated towards Phyre.  42% of Kenge’s play is initiated towards her sister Kwali and 31% of Phyre’s play is initiated towards Ashanti.  (What are the odds that 42% would come up so frequently?)

Given that Phyre is the first choice to be the object of a play bout by three of the other lions one would think that Phyre is particularly playful.  Well, in some ways she is.  She is the third most likely lion to initiate play, but actually the least likely to be the object of play.  Why?  Well this graph might give you an indication.  This shows the probability that the lion being the object of initiated social play behaviour will reject that interaction (by growling, baring teeth, moving away etc).  As you can see, over 50% of all play behaviours initiated towards Phyre are rejected by her.  So although there seems to be a preference for lions to play with Phyre, they clearly think twice before doing so, or face a mouthful of aggravated teeth coming their way.  It would appear that playing with Phyre is only on her terms.

Some lions never initiate play with certain other lions:  Athena towards Kwali, Kenge to Athena, Kwali to Ashanti, Athena or Milo, Nala to Kwali, Narnia to Kwali and Phyre to Kenge.

Athena and Kwali feature quite strongly in this list for some reason.  From the first graph we can see that neither initiate play very much, so maybe the others assume that they do not want to play and do not initiate play towards them much either.

And so to our most playful member of the pride.  The lovely AT1.  An astonishing 429 social play bouts have been observed being initiated by our little girl, in between locomotary and object play, feeding and sleeping; its a wonder she finds the time!  She has started 57% of all social play observed since 1st September 2010, and she has done it all in the past 2 months.

So who is she playing with?  Well first choice is of course mum, Athena, the object of 29% of all this energy.  Surprisingly it is dad that comes in second at 16% with Narnia third at 15%.  Kenge (4%), Kwali (7%) and Nala (9%) are at the other end of the scale.

But it’s not all one way traffic.  13% of all social play since the pride was released has been directed towards AT1.  The lions most likely to play with her are Nala (23%), Narnia (20%) and Kenge (18%).  Least likely are Phyre and Ashanti (each 5%).

Milo has only ever been seen to initiate 11 social play bouts since his release.  Nine of those have been towards his daughter (with Kenge and Nala taking one each for the team).

How all this relates to the relative dominance structure of the pride is a whole other set of calculations for another day.  But we believe the principle message for the day aside from the fact  that girls just wanna have fun, is that a pride that plays together, stays together.

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