Lions are the kings of the jungle, but in Botswana a gang of lionesses are turning gender roles upside down in the name of female power.
Scientists are confused about why five lionesses in Botswana have grown manes and are acting like males. These females are roaring like lions, scent marking like lions and even trying to mate with other females. The experts are baffled.
Normally, male lions use their impressive hairy manes and loud roars to warn off rivals and attract mates. Strangely, female lionesses in the wild have sometimes grown manes and acted like males. The five lionesses in Botswana have given scientists the chance to study the process up close.
Sussex University’s Geoffrey Gilfillan began studying a large female who had a small mane in March 2014.
Mr. Gilfillan explained, “She became much more male-like in her behavior. She began scent-marking and roaring.”
The lioness was also seen killing the cubs of another group of lions. While males are known to kill the young of other groups, this is not typical for females.
Four other lionesses have since grown manes and copied her behavior.
What is causing the lion queens to become lion kings?
In the case of the Botswana lionesses the change in behavior is thought to be due to natural causes.
Global Wild Cat Conservation president, Luke Hunter, believes an increase in the male hormone, testosterone, is causing the lionesses to act like lions.
In 2011 a captive lioness at South Africa’s National Zoological Gardens developed a mane and was acting like a lion. And she had an unusually high level of testosterone. The imbalance was due to a problem in her ovaries. Once she was treated she stopped behaving like a lion.
The Botswana lionesses are also unable to become pregnant, which is another direct link to their high levels of testosterone.
The Botswana lionesses prove that there is only a small biological difference between what makes a male a male and a female a female. A chemical imbalance in either direction tips the scales and changes everything. A lion and a lioness are two sides of the same coin. Which way it lands is up to the random whim of Mother Nature.