We could be forgiven for the widely held perception of the grand life of a dominant male lion; Hold back and let the females do the hard work (hunting) and simply taking prime spot on the feast when it’s ready. After a really good feed, do what lions do best: lying (and sleeping). And when required to do so, participate in one of the most drawn out of mating affairs that occurs in nature.
So a male lions’ life must be rock ‘n roll; Money for nothing and chicks for free.
While there are good reasons for such a perception, a deeper look reveals a different picture.
Male lions do hunt but mainly when it becomes essential to be part of the hunt, e.g. in the case where a pride attempts to hunt a buffalo where despite all team effort it needs a big male to bring down the prey. Otherwise a male lion’s dominant task is to protect his territory, which may well be the combined territories of multiple prides, and with thus protect his offspring.
So, what is the not so grand part of the life of a male lion?
As a new born cub he must first survive the infant stage, and maybe a higher testosterone level helps at this stage to get an unfair share of mothers milk.
Up to the age of two he then lives a playful and care free time whilst protected in the pride.
But with growing sexual maturity (2 – 2.5 years) he will start to encounter opposition from the dominant male (his father) and will eventually be pushed out of the pride and the territory.
If he is lucky he has a same age brother or male cousin with whom he can form a coalition. His chances, otherwise of survival are slim. By the age of 2.5 years he can now hunt, but he is not fully competent hunter – a coalition obviously has better chances of success in hunting and staying alive.
The next two years are all about survival, improving hunting skills, finding enough prey and keeping a low profile not to be killed by a dominant male.
If he has managed to get to age 4-5, and especially if he is in a coalition he will have gained enough strength and confidence to challenge a dominant male and if he survives the battle he will ultimately take over a territory.
He may hold this position until age 8-9 when his reign as king will come to an end being challenged and finally overwhelmed by a stronger male from the next generation.
Life for him returns to becoming a lone hunter and it gets tougher having to keep a low profile in order to survive, but his days are becoming numbered.
So, the life of the king of all beasts are not quite as grand it may seem.