for National Geographic Channel
The male lions of Tsavo, Kenya, which gained notoriety in the late 19th century as man-eaters, are unusual for two reasons. They lack the majestic golden mane commonly associated with male lions, and they have been found to have an uncommon family life, according to a report.
"When we began this study there really was a question whether there was such a thing as a maneless lion," said Bruce Patterson, MacArthur Curator of Mammals at the Field Museum in Chicago and co-author of the study.
Maneless lions had been seen before. But a consistent study had not been done to determine whether these sightings were of adolescent male lions, which hadn't had time to grow a mane, or possibly castrated males who lost their mane within a few months.
Patterson and colleague Roland Kays, senior scientists of zoology at the New York State Museum in Albany, initiated their study in Chicago's Field Museum, where the famous man-eaters of Tsavothe two large males that killed 135 railroad workers in1898lie stuffed on display. The two lions had been shot, killed, and skinned, and lay as "trophy rugs" for 25 years, before finding their way to the Field Museum in 1924.
The curious thing about the lions was that they were maneless.
What surprised Patterson and Kays was that these man-eaters were adults, between eight and ten years old; most males develop manes by age five. Earlier studies in the Serengeti had suggested that maneless lions were "losers" or "humiliated" members of the pride. "Lacking a mane was something like a badge of dishonor," said Patterson.
Study in the Wild
Curious about the social consequences of lacking a mane, Patterson and Kay traveled to Tsavo East National Park in Kenya to investigate the plight of maneless lions.
Their hypothesis was that the prides in Tsavo East would be small because the region is very dry and food is scarce. They also expected fewer males would govern these petite prides.
Unlike the Serengeti, where the food is plentiful and the lions are relatively easy to find, the challenge in Tsavo is finding the lions. To lure them from the dense woody thickets scattered through the arid open savannas, Kays used the ultimate bait: the "plaintive bleat of a wounded baby buffalo."
While traveling in Tsavo, Kays saw a wounded baby buffalo trailing behind the herd and calling to its mother. Kays videotaped the scene which he later played over a loudspeaker system mounted on the landrover. "It was like ringing the dinner bell at Tsavo," says Patterson. The prides came right out of the undergrowth and close enough to the vehicle for the researchers to observe the tiny nicks and scratches that help distinguish one animal from another.
What the researchers saw astounded them.
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