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Reduced dispersal and opportunistic territory acquisition in male lions (Panthera leo)

  • Paul J. Funston (a1), Micheal G. L. Mills (a2), Philip R. K. Richardson (a3) and Albert S. van Jaarsveld (a3)


Life-history patterns in lions Panthera leo living in savanna woodlands of the Kruger National Park, South Africa, were investigated and compared with those of the Tanzanian ‘plains-like’ ecosystems (e.g. Serengeti Plains and Ngorongoro Crater). First, lower levels of mortality in the juvenile age classes were found in Kruger lions, which in turn, extend the inter-birth period. A further difference was a prolonged period of association of sub-adult males with their natal pride, either directly or in a land tenure system that has not been described previously. Most (80%) of young male coalitions rather than becoming nomadic, remained close to their natal territory after leaving the pride, either as non-territorial sub-adults or adults and even as territorial adults. Only 20% of coalitions did not stay close to their natal range, one of which acquired a territory 20 km away from its natal pride. The pattern of territory acquisition, in fact, was one in which the majority of holders acquired territories close to their natal ranges. These behaviour patterns contrast markedly with those from ‘plains-like’ ecosystems where dispersing males usually move far away from their natal pride's range (>200) km and often remain nomadic for extended periods of time. Dense bush and access to sufficient prey resources in the form of resident buffalo Syncerus caffer herds may be important factors allowing extended residence near the natal pride's territory. Buffalo were more available in our study area habitat than in neighbouring habitats, and comprised the majority of male lion kills. Extended male residence contrasts markedly with current theory on dispersal in polygynous mammals, which holds that only one sex (females for lions) gain an advantage by staying close to the territory of their natal pride. In Kruger it seems that both sexes gain an advantage by not dispersing far, and use currently undocumented mechanisms to avoid inbreeding.


Corresponding author

All correspondence to: P. J. Funston, Department of Nature Conservation, Technikon Pretoria, Private Bag X680, Pretoria, 0001, South Africa. E-mail:



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