In Solitude He Wanders

In Solitude He Wanders

Most people consider the lion by far the most dangerous animal in Africa. Among professional hunters there would be much debate on this subject, because those who have had contact with creatures in the wild consider the buffalo the most dangerous among big—game animals.

If lions could express their opinions, they would probably agree. A recent well—recorded incident tells about a herd of buffalo that scooped up an attacking lioness and tossed her among them on their horns! When they finally relented and allowed the lioness to drop to the ground, she was dead.

Lions have a definite social order, with one male in a dominant position. A large portion of the pride's activities are assigned to the female, but in times of pressing need she is not alone. When a lioness senses she is about to give birth, she will isolate herself from the pride. Before retiring, however, she finds another female to assist her during her confinement. The task of her companion is to protect the mother and newborn cubs from predators and to provide them with fresh food. The Masai tribesmen refer to the assisting lioness as "Auntie."

As soon as the mother regains her strength, Auntie returns to the pride. The mother also resumes hunting with the pride but keeps her cubs hidden. As long as they have a chance for survival, she is a devoted mother. Recently a park ranger observed a lioness drag a 300—pound sable antelope almost a mile to her cubs — a tremendous feat of strength and endurance.

When the cubs are weaned, at about three months, the lioness introduces them to the adults of the pride, where they will be accepted as members of the band. If this were not done, the cubs would be killed on sight as intruders, because lions of different prides are quite hostile to each other.

The hierarchy within a pride is always evident. When one of the group makes a kill, the dominant male is the first to grab a choice portion. He is followed by the mature females and the juveniles, provided they can find an open spot, since by now the carcass is fairly overrun with feeding lions. In such a situation the cubs are left out. The mother often restrains the cubs from trying to partake in the feast, for she is well aware that defenseless, intruding cubs would be killed or mauled instantly. It is small wonder that only one cub out of ten survives to become an adult.

The new mother's mate is the ultimate of male chauvinists. He leaves all of the major necessities for living, such as hunting and killing, to the female. Indolent to a fault, he spends as much as twenty hours a day just resting. He seldom arouses himself except to eat, but when he does, the male lion gorges himself on as much as ninety pounds of meat at a single meal! But even the king has his day of reckoning.

In the social order of the king of beasts there comes a time when an up—and—coming young male lion decides it is the hour to dethrone the boss lion of the pride. He will approach the boss somewhat cautiously and then force matters into a fight. It begins with bluff as both males try to howl each other down. The sounds they emit range from low growls to nerve—shattering roars that can be heard for miles. Soon the blows begin to fall.

Each lion beleaguers the other with slaps of a force that could easily break a man's neck. Fortunately the male lion possesses a well—padded mane that, in this instance, becomes a shock absorber. During the fight neither exposes his claws, so the battle involves mainly muscle power. It is a fair and bloodless contest for superiority. If the boss lion wins, nothing will change, and the defeated challenger will skulk back to the pride. Conditions will return to normal, with neither harboring a grudge.

If the challenger wins, however, everything changes. Most, if not all, of the pride members will then fall under the jurisdiction of the new boss lion. The now—dethroned male is sent out "into the dessert." From here on he will roam as a solitary. Since the territories of neighboring prides of lions border one another, the fate of the former boss lion is harsh. If he tries to enter the realm of another pride, he will immediately be chased away of killed.

The solitary lion is constantly harried and forced to move on and on until he reaches a parched land that lions do not often frequent. Here he must live on rodents and lizards, for the larger game do not try to subsist in a barren environment. Worse still, he may be forced into the vicinity of human settlements, which to a lion is most unpleasant. He will now develop skills in hunting domestic animals, thereby becoming a rogue constantly threatened by humans with rifles. Exiles such as the solitary lion will, in desperation, attack man. Once he is identified as man—eater, he is hunted down in earnest. Whatever befalls an ex—lion king, his life as an exile is destitute. The most comforting aspect of the lion's banishment may be that it is relatively brief.

From the book: 
Our Fascinating Earth