What’s a boy to do?

21 03 2011

We thought it was time to have a look at the data and see how Milo is interacting with his females.  We took the last 100 research sessions and the data collected on the group dynamic and social interaction.  The group dynamic records which lions are present together, who their nearest neighbour at that time is and what distance they are to them.  The social interaction data looks at who initiates an interaction and towards which other lion.

Using the first sighting of Milo on each of these research sessions we get the following:

8% of occasions we did not say Milo or were unable to determine the group dynamic

35% of occasions Milo was found on his own

57% of occasions Milo was with at least one female

Of the times when Milo was with at least one female the breakdown was as follows:

10.5% – one lion  (4 out of the 6 occasions was during mating of either Ashanti or Phyre)

1.7% – two lions, 3.5% – three lions, 12.3% – four lions, 29.8% – five lions, 33.3% – 6 lions

8.8% – all seven female lions were present.  This is lower than expected but can be explained by the regular departure from the pride by Athena and Kenge who were tending young cubs during this period.

The females most least likely to be in the group that Milo was found with were Kenge (31.6%) and Athena (38.6%) due to their frequent departure from the rest of the pride females to tend cubs.  Of the other five Kwali and Narnia were equal on 77.2%, Nala at 80.7%, Ashanti at 87.7% and Phyre on 91.2% was the female most likely to be in the group that Milo was found with.

Milo seems to have clear preferences for his nearest neighbour, however the lion he is least likely to be his nearest neighbour (Kenge: 7%) is also the lion he is likely to be closest to when she is (1.33m)








Turning to Milo’s social interactions over this period (10 Feb to 18 Mar) we observed Milo initiating only one social interaction; towards Phyre.

He received 29 interactions as follows although this data is heavily influenced by Athena and Kenge being away from the pride a lot and Ashanti and Phyre both being on heat during some of this time:







So, there is a little insight about what a boy does; make of it what you will.


The battle for alpha female; Ashanti vs Phyre

19 03 2011

Whilst the behaviours of the pride over the past few months have been affected by mating and then cubbing, observations of the pride suggest that there has been a shift in the balance of power within the females of the group.  The two lionesses vying for the coveted role of alpha female are Ashanti and Phyre.



Whilst there is no established hierarchy within a lion pride and no-consistent leader, a dominance system does exist.  Males hold greater dominance over females due to marked sexual dimorphism; a particular adult female will often lead a procession, although several different lions may take the lead over the course of travel.

Lions exhibit a wide variety of peaceful social behaviours that have been well documented with two behaviour patterns promoting group cohesion more than any other and serve the same purpose as grooming does in many primate societies.  Head rubbing as a greeting between familiar lions can be characterized either by two lions approaching each other and rubbing cheeks or by rubbing foreheads together before progressing to rubbing the face and neck.  Such a greeting is often followed by one lion flopping over the other or resting adjacently.

Social licking, although less prevalent than head-rubbing, also helps to reinforce social bonds but can also be considered a utilitarian function as lions cannot clean their own head and neck.  After feeding lions often lick the muzzles of pride mates to remove blood and is also common after rain, possibly helping to dry out the coat of another lion.  Social licking may be brief but can also continue for as long as five minutes.  It has been suggested that social licking in combination with head rubbing may indicate close functional relationships. Weaker or less dominant lions tend to initiate social interactions suggesting that such action may be an appeasement function and can be used therefore as an indicator of differing dominance levels with the pride.

When the pride was released at the Dollar Block site during 2007 / 8 Ashanti was the clear leader of the pride.  But have things changed now that the pride in Ngamo?

During November and December the social patterns look like this.  The blue bar is the number of interactions each lion initiated whilst the red bar shows the number of interactions received.  The green bar is the difference between these two; the largest positive difference being a sign of greater dominance.  As would be expected the smallest and youngest members of the pride; Nala & Narnia, are at the bottom of the pile and Milo, the male, is at the top.  Ashanti is the clear alpha amongst the females. Phyre is clearly the most social of all the lions but had a relatively low dominance position.

Social Interactions Nov - Dec 2010

But things look like they were already starting to change.  During this period whenever a lion got up to initiate a move to a new area the order in which the lions followed the leader was recorded.

Of 22 such moves 45% were initiated by either Ashanti or Phyre with 32% being initiated by Phyre.  Not all lions followed a move, but where both Phyre and Ashanti followed, regardless of whether they initiated the move themselves or whether all lions followed or not, Phyre was ahead of Ashanti on 92% of occasions.

In 2011 so far the picture seems to have changed significantly.

Of 20 observed moves 75% have been initiated by Ashanti or Phyre but now 50% have been initiated by Phyre suggesting she has the greatest influence on the movements of the pride.

And the social interactions chart now looks like this.  Phyre’s position has improved dramatically placing her firmly ahead of Ashanti.

Social Interactions Jan - Mar 2011

The results for Kenge and Athena, and no doubt for all of the lions, will have been affected by the birth of cubs in the site and the amount of time that our mothers have been away from the pride.

Another telling sign could be the interactions between Ashanti and Phyre specifically.  However, during both time periods the number of interactions initiated towards the other equals the number of interactions received by the other; suggesting that they view each other equally.

But evidence from behaviours of the whole pride suggests that Phyre is the current alpha female and only time will tell as to whether she retains this position or if the balance of power will shift again.

Phyre - Alpha Female?




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