Saturday, January 15, 2011

Hazards of Sex

I think I’ve already mentioned the mother lions’ tendency to swat and gnaw on their young in a way that seems a little rough and yet doesn’t appear to relate to any specific action on the part of the cubs (in other words, it seems less like punishment and more like a whim). But the mothers are also watching out for their young—and one of the ways they do this is to keep a sharp eye on any father-cub interactions.

In the wild, male lions will kill any cubs that have been fathered by other lions, and their tolerance for their own young isn’t so hot, either. Looking at Luke, the male lion at the zoo, as his offspring swarm around the enclosure, you can almost see him thinking that things were so much easier before these seven little irritants made an appearance. It might just be me, but I did kind of get the impression that he would’ve eaten his young if the females hadn’t been around—not out of spite or anything, but just to get things back to normal.

Because he’s testier than the lionesses and might hurt them—deliberately or not—the cubs are, of course, completely fascinated by him, and like flirting with danger by hanging around him.

Eventually, one of their dare-devil routines turned into a general pile-up of adults and cubs, with mini-lions swarming all over the place:

This was a mainly peaceful event, except for the moments when Luke behaved in a way that the lionesses considered inappropriate—at which point there was an incredible amount of snarling as one lioness or another read him the riot act.

[a snarl-fest with cub in the middle]

But the zookeepers know what they’re doing when they put animal family groups together, and nothing untoward occurred. In fact, the cubs even tired—eventually—of their excitingly dangerous father and went back to exploring and stalking each other. Luke, relieved of these burdens, rolled around in the leaves for a while to shake off the interlude. Then, he turned to the many visitors crowding the rails of the exhibit and gave us a long-suffering look, clear as day. I’d swear he was advocating for Planned Parenthood.

{A note: I do write all text and take all pictures. Please do not reproduce either without my permission.}


Anca said...

I'm with you on his long-suffering look! Perhaps Planned Parenthood could use him as a poster parent?

Kathleen Cunningham said...

Very funny photo essay! A book I have about stepfamilies, "The Truth About Cinderella," uses examples of male lions killing cubs from other sires to support the position that children are more likely to be harmed by a step-parent, mostly by step-fathers. The author also uses statistics from human families. Glad that no harm came to the cute cubs. I know most of us are overly enthusiastic about the big kitties at the zoo.

biobabbler said...

Awesome. I do think you've interpreted the last photo correctly. =) Nice work.

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