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Unique mating behaviour of Asiatic lion (Panthera leo persica) in the Gir Forest, Gujarat

CURRENT SCIENCE, VOL. 99, NO. 3, 10 AUGUST 2010 281
Unique mating behaviour of Asiatic lion (Panthera leo persica) in the
Gir Forest, Gujarat
Lions (Panthera leo) are the only social
felids1. Pride females and their dependent
cubs, coalition males, nomadic males and
nomadic females form the various ele-
ments of the lion’s social life1. Male coa-
litions form associations with related
males and hold tenure over female prides
for a definite period of their lifetime dur-
ing which they sire cubs2.
Schaller3 and Joslin4 have described
lion mating behaviour in detail. At the
beginning of the mating period, an oes-
trous female advertises her presence by
vocalization or scent marking (pers. obs.).
The first male to find the female consorts
with her during the mating period that
lasts 3–7 days (pers. obs.).
During this period, the male is aggres-
sively protective of the female and the
pair rest in close proximity throughout
the mating period. The female initiates
mating by growling4. This low frequency
growl lasts more than 1.2 s on an aver-
age4. The female rises, directs her poste-
rior toward the male and moves a short
distance before allowing the male to mate.
The termination of mating is abrupt
accompanied by some amount of aggres-
sion directed towards the male. The
female rolls over before resuming her
resting position whereas the male contin-
ues standing for another 30–60 s. On
some occasions, either the mating pair or
the male roars (pers. obs.). Males have
been observed to vocalize after each mat-
ing especially at the beginning of the
mating period (pers. obs.). A large num-
ber of matings are required before a fe-
male can be successfully fertilized3.
Therefore, matings occur at frequent in-
tervals throughout the mating period with
the frequency diminishing towards the
end of the mating period (pers. obs.).
Since courting lions seldom hunt, pride
members dissociate and range away from
the mating pair. The females on their part,
break away from the pride members
(female groups) and re-join them only
after the mating period is over. Schaller3
observed that 20–25% of the courting
males had another male 30–200 m away
whereas 25% had several pride members
within 200 m.
I studied the reproductive strategies of
male Asiatic lions (Panthera leo persica)
from April 2002 to January 2007 in the
Gir forest, Gujarat, western India. During
the fieldwork, lions were located through
radio-telemetry and opportunistic cues
such as vocalization, location of prey
carcass, secondary information and by
following spoor tracks. I recorded all
mating episodes including information
on location, identity of male and female
based on distinct body markings and
characteristic vibrissae spots5, duration
of mating, mating behaviour, frequency
of mating along with behaviour and iden-
tity of associated partners. A total of 51
mating episodes were recorded during
the study period.
Male Asiatic lions were found to form
small coalitions of 2–3 individuals and
usually avoided fighting over oestrous
females6. Comparable to observations on
African lion3, females mate with two or
more males in succession, if unattended.
If a courting male were to leave the female
unattended, the associated male would
take over mating. The associate coalition
partner was found to be in the vicinity of
the mating pair 48% of the time and did
not challenge the mating male.
On 30 May 2006 while locating a
radio-collared male lion, 6–8 years of age,
I observed a unique mating behaviour.
The male was resting under a Carissa
congesta thicket next to a prime female,
about 5–7 years of age, whereas another
younger female, about 4–6 years of age,
rested 5 m away from the pair. As is
typical with mating pairs, when the older
female stood up and walked away, the
male walked with her in a manner that
indicates that he is protective of her. The
younger female too stood up but walked
in another direction. At 13:30 and 13:38 h,
the pair mated. The pair came back to the
thicket and rested. At 13:52 h the
younger associate female approached the
male and presented herself. The male
stood up to mate but she rolled over and
lunged at him after which he sat down
close to the older female, 2 m away from
the younger female. At 13:54 h, when the
younger female once again approached
the male, they mated. The older female
did not show any aggression towards the
mating female.
This behaviour of a single male mating
two females at the same time is unusual
among Gir lions. This observation was
the only record from five year monitor-
ing of the Asiatic lions. Considering that
this observation was made in the revenue
area outside the protected area (PA)
boundary, it is unclear whether this is an
established strategy in areas of fewer
male lions or just a one-time occurrence.
Studies in Africa have shown that oes-
trous synchrony is a strategy adopted by
females against invading infanticide
males1 but simultaneous mating by a sin-
gle male is rare. Schaller3 observed a
male accompanied by two oestrous lion-
esses on only three occasions based on
his observations of African lions from
1966 to 1969. Plasticity and variability in
the social and reproductive strategy is
responsible for adaptive survival of lions
across their range7 and whether this
unique behaviour is one such strategy
requires detailed comparative studies.
1. Bertram, B. C. R., Sci. Am., 1975, 232, 54–
2. Bygott, J. D., Bertram, B. C. R. and
Hanby, J. P., Nature, 1979, 282, 839–841.
3. Schaller, G., The Serengeti Lion, Univer-
sity of Chicago, Chicago, 1972.
4. Joslin, P., The Asiatic Lion: A study of
Ecology and Behaviour, Ph D dissertation,
University of Edinburgh, 1973, p. 248.
5. Pennycuick, C. J. and Rudnai, J., J. Zool.
London, 1970, 160, 497–508.
6. Meena, V., Reproductive strategy and
behaviour of male Asiatic lions, Ph D dis-
sertation, Forest Research Institute Univer-
sity, Dehradun, Uttarakhand, India, 2008,
p. 179.
7. Meena, V., J. Threatened Taxa, 2009, 1(3),
Received 5 January 2010; revised accepted 8
July 2010
Wildlife Insitute of India,
P. O. Box 18, Chandrabani,
Dehradun 248 001, India
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Full-text available
Sociality is one of the distinctive features of Lions (Panthera leo), which are the only social felids. Their evolutionary history is important both for understanding the evolution of sociality and that of other sympatric species owing to their widespread distribution throughout the entire Holarctic region during the Pleistocene. Lion grouping patterns, cooperative behaviour and strategies vary throughout their range and in different habitats. Their resilience in diverse habitats facing a variety of conservation pressures is largely owing to this plasticity of lion social behaviour. This review describes the variation in social organisation of lions in 11 habitats across Africa, taking into account relevant ecological parameters. The social organization of the Asiatic Lion is described from this perspective using the results of previous studies and of a five-year study conducted between 2002 and 2006 in the Gir forest of India.
Cooperation between two or more individuals has been shown to yield short-term benefits in several vertebrate species1–4, and various hypotheses have been developed to explain the evolution of cooperative behaviour5–7. However, until now there has been no evidence to show that such cooperation actually does confer lifetime's reproductive advantages on more than one member of the coalitions concerned8,9. Long-term studies of wild lions (Panthera leo L.) have now provided such evidence. We show that, compared with singletons and pairs, male lions in groups of three or more can more reliably gain tenure of female prides, retain tenure for longer, mate with more different females, and produce more surviving offspring; thus each individual has higher fitness through cooperation.
Reports observations of 2 prides of lions in the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. The permanent nucleus of a pride is a group of related females; some subadult lionesses may be expelled from the pride and become nomadic. Young males leave the pride but remain together in small groups and eventually take over another pride, expelling older males. Lionesses have irregular estrous cycles and mate frequently while in heat. Females in a pride are often in heat synchronously. Both this synchrony and the timing of births appear to be influenced by social factors operating within the pride. The mortality rate among cubs is about 80% and is highest after a pride has been taken over by new males. Selective pressures affecting reproductive behavior are discussed. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
A method is described of identifying lions from the patterns of vibrissa spots. “Reliability” of identification is discussed in terms of the probability of there being more than one individual with a given spot pattern in the study population, and it is shown how reliability can be improved, when necessary, by adding together information from more than one source. Means of adapting the reliability calculation to identification in other species are indicated.
Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Edinburgh, 1973. Includes bibliographical references (p. 237-241).
  • B C R Bertram
Bertram, B. C. R., Sci. Am., 1975, 232, 54-65.
  • C J Pennycuick
  • J Rudnai
Pennycuick, C. J. and Rudnai, J., J. Zool. London, 1970, 160, 497-508.
Reproductive strategy and behaviour of male Asiatic lions, Ph D dissertation
  • V Meena
Meena, V., Reproductive strategy and behaviour of male Asiatic lions, Ph D dissertation, Forest Research Institute University, Dehradun, Uttarakhand, India, 2008, p. 179.