Only male lions have manes, however, not all males have them. There are many lions around the world without manes and some with less pronounced. Although African lions are generally bigger with huge manes compared to Asiatic lions, there are maneless lions in Africa as well. It is believed the less developed or the absence of manes among the Asiatic lions compared to the African lions is due to the hot climate in Asia. The lions that existed in Asia Minor and ancient Greece had less pronounced manes, and it did not extend below their belly. Lions with short manes were also common in the Arabian Peninsula, the Syrian region, and Egypt.
Function of Manes
Lions belong to the family of big cats. Lions use their manes, much like the peacocks use their tails. The longer and darker the manes, the more powerful the lion is in the pride. A lion with big and darker manes would typically attract the females. It was believed that manes are used by the lion to protect their necks when they are fighting with other males. However, lions fight by attacking the back and hips. It has been established that the color and size of manes are an indication of a lion’s fitness.
The Role of Testosterone on Manes
It is believed that genetics, hormones, and climate play a significant role in specific body features of different organisms. These influences are no exception among the lions. According to scientists, testosterone is responsible for the growth of manes. For instance, a castrated male lion will not produce testosterone and will lose their mane.
A Rare Case of Female Lions Developing Manes
In 2011, at the National Zoological Garden in South Africa, one female lion known as Emma developed manes. Tests carried out revealed high levels of testosterone as a result of a problem she had on her ovaries. When they were removed, she changed to a typical lioness. Other lionesses in Botswana have been seen to have manes, and although they mate, they do not reproduce, due to high levels of testosterone. Five different cases of the maned lionesses were observed in the Okavango region, suggesting there could be a genetic underpinning the phenomena.
Regional differences also play a role in the existence of manes. Asiatic lions found in hot climates in Asia have relatively shorter manes compared to their cousins in Africa. Asiatic lions found in Gir Forest in India have a darker mane compared to the African lions such as those found in the tropics of Tsavo in Kenya. Similarly, the African lions have bigger and more luxuriant manes, unlike the Asiatic lions that have less. Other scientists believe that some lions have evolved from having longer manes to allow easy movement in their habitats, which could be forests. Others tend to have manes due to the low maintenance costs because their habitats are plains and Savannas.
Behaviors of Lions
Lions are the only social cats living in groups of pride, which is a family unit. A pride is composed of one to three males and several lionesses and their young ones. All female lions within the pride are related. The females stay with the group all their lives, while males will finally leave the group to form their own through takeover of an existing pride. Males play a role in defending the pride and their territory. Their territory could be as big as 100 square miles. The females are the hunters in the pride, and they often hunt in a group. However, when an opportunity presents, one lion can hunt on its own.
Conservation of lions
In the past, lions were distributed across Africa, Asia, and Europe. However, today they are only found in small parts of Africa and the Gir Forest in India. Lions have disappeared from 95% of their original range. A century ago, Africa was home to more than 200,000 lions, but now only 20,000 are found across 26 countries. According to IUCN, there are about 23,000 to 39,000 lions in the wild around the world. The Asiatic lions that once lived in the whole of the middle East and Asia, were hunted and killed to the brink of extinction. As of the 1800s, there were about ten in the wild. They find refuge in Gir National park of India, where their numbers have increased. According to National Geographic, there were slightly more than 500 Asiatic lions in the world as of 2015, and all of them lived in Gir. This was a significant increase from 411 in 2010.