The male lion, king of the jungle. Feared by many and respected by all. This iconic figurehead is one of the most prized beasts to roam the African savanna, yet he leads a harsh, short life that is dominated by conflict and mortal danger. His life is tough from day one. Assuming the perils of youth are negotiated by him and his pride, he is abandoned at maturity, forced to spend the next few years alone relying on instinct and what he has learnt from his now absent family to survive. Food is often procured by scavenging at this early juncture but as his muscles and his survival instincts develop, nature carves him into a formidable killing machine.
Females are well known to be the more prolific hunters within a pride structure, but for those nomadic males not yet strong enough to rule their own domain, finding food is key. Their high metabolism means that 5kgs of body weight are lost each day that no nourishment is forthcoming. Between the ages of 3-6 years a male lion needs about 10 to 15kgs of meat a day and unfortunately for them, protein rich sustenance does not grow on trees, but rather feeds from them! Testosterone pumps through his veins like rapids surging through a gorge as his mane grows, his muscles expand and his hunting technique is honed. Nature is priming him for his reign to come and survival is everything.
For those lucky enough to navigate these traumatic years, the hopeful reward at the end of this hardship is a territory and a pride of his own. Now he enters the mature stage of his life and whilst he has to constantly defend his position and interests from young pretenders attempting to usurp him from his throne, his priorities change. Now his programming compels him to follow the path of all living things and ensure his genetic survival. His advances are often rejected as the females test his loyalty to their pride and many times he is lead on only to be rebuffed in the most physical of ways. Procreation however is a strong motive and perseverance usually leads to rewards.
Often dubbed as lazy, his perfectly coiffed mane fluttering in the breeze like a model posing in front of a fan, the male now turns his attention to the role of father and protector. His fee for providing his females and cubs a safe place in which to grow and nurture? To eat first at the dinner table. Many people are put off by his selfish table manners but bearing in mind the threats that he faces and deals with on a regular basis from marauding trespassers, the fee is minimal.
Male lions should be seen as ultimate father figures (with the exception of being slaves to their stomach!). Although far stronger than the lionesses in the pride, the male only really flexes his substantial muscles when food is on offer. At all other times, the female’s say is final (sound familiar??) and their wrath is usually respected. Many of the scars sported on the noses of these magnificent cats are from a sharp slap from their ladies. When safely in the bosom of the pride, these great brutes dissolve into veritable kitty cats and can be seen engaging in the most tender of activities with their cubs. Watching the tolerance levels of these huge cats whilst their offspring clamber all over them, one is forced to rethink the preconceptions of the male lion.
Loving fathers but also willing to die for future success of his own, a male lion is the epitome of fatherhood. The majority of males indeed fall from grace in this way as one too many attack is repelled from younger, hungrier competitors and age catches up with them, as it does with us all. The brain and heart continues to be willing but the body cannot keep up. Competition is rife amongst male lions and fights can be brutal with death often being the final outcome. It is a harsh life but one would think a satisfying one. What better way to leave this world than doing it by protecting your offspring until your last breath escapes your body. It sounds morbid but it is most certainly noble. Disney’s “Lion King” has so affected the ideas that people have on safari and often it is a frustration to us in the industry but one has to enjoy the picture that they paint. A loving father, reigning over his kingdom forcibly but fairly, and willing to sacrifice his own existence for the continuation of his legacy. Hollywood loves to embellish but if one trims away the glamour from this animated masterpiece, the story beneath it is, in my experience, not all that far from the truth. Long live the king!