Thursday, October 15, 2009
How a single bullet killed 25 lions (long version)
It is the dream of every ginger (male) kitty to be the king of beasts, but if the dream comes true,
it could become a nightmare.
To be a king of beasts, you must first be a lion cub, and that, to begin with, is tough. The lions' infant mortality rate, due to predators, parasites, disease, starvation, and other lions, is two-thirds within the first year, so chances are that you won't live past your princehood.
But assuming that you can reach 3 years of age, unlike your sisters, who will continue living in the pride for life, you and your brothers and male cousins will be summarily evicted from the pride.
Now out in the wide-wide-world of "sport hunting", you will have to hack out a niche for yourself. Up to this point, you've been protected by your father and uncle(s),
and fed and taught by your mother and aunt(s).
Now, not only do you have to protect yourself, you'll have to feed yourself.
So, you join forces with your brother and two cousins to form a 4-lion coalition, for self-protection, cooperative hunting, and, ultimately, to take over a pride by defeating the pride males.
You don't know this yet, but when your coalition drives out or kills the pride males, you will quite naturally kill off all their cubs. This is genetically programmed, so that the lionesses of that pride will get back in estrus, and have new cubs bearing your genes.
Likewise, if, while you were a cub, your dad and uncles lost the fight against younger bachelor lions, you'd be dead.
And don't think that once you have taken over a pride, life will be hunk dory. It is a myth that the females will do all the work while the males lie around all day. A pride male has his responsibilities:
1. to patrol and scent mark your territory daily to repel any interested bachelor coaltion - daily
2. to assist in heavy duty hunting of, say, buffaloes
3. to babysit the cubs while the lionesses are out hunting
4. to protect the cubs from predators
5. to defend the pride from marauding bachelor coalitions
While #1 may get you tired, #2 may get you gored, #3 may get you irritated, #4 may get you growling, #5 will really hurt, and may get you killed, which is why male lions will be old, worn, scarred and decrepit by age 10, and seldom live past age 12, while females can continue to bear young till 15, and live past 16.
Still want to be the king of beasts? Well, let me tell you about something much more deadly than even a big pride lion in his prime who, though lethal, can kill only one lion at a time. This thing is called a trophy hunter. When I was camping in Africa in the early 80s, I observed the following tragedy:
The pride where I was camping comprised 3 males, 10 females and 22 cubs. The 3 pride-males, named Agamemnon, Achilles and Hector, were about 6 years of age and very much in their prime. One of the lionesses was indeed named Helen. Their 22 cubs were thriving under their protection - protection against the coalition of four 4-year-olds, who have been loitering in the neighborhood. By their scent-markings they have been intruding into AAH's territory. Due to the superior fighting prowess of the three pride lions, they have kicked the butts of the Gang of Four, so far. They will be able to repel them for another couple of years, by which time they will probably have become the Gang of Three. This is a fairly stable long term scenario, which in lion terms spans 3 years, no more, by the end of which the current crop of cubs will have grown and be able to defend and fend for themselves. Or so the theory goes. What was unforeseen was that murderous thing called a trophy hunter. He killed Achilles with one shot in the chess, while Achilles was charging at him.
Now with only Agamemnon and Hector holding the fort, they were no match for the Gang of Four. Valiantly, they tried to defend their offspring, but it was a matter of fighting to the last cub before they themselves were slain. The 10 lionesses became the spoils of war. And so, a new leonine dynasty was born. But through it all, 25 lives were lost.
And let me remind my readers, all this tragic carnage was caused by one single bullet fired into the lion-heart of the one Achilles by one egomaniacal trophy hunter. Shame on you, Safari Club International. Shame on you, Mr. President, for supporting hunting.
Anthony Marr, founder and president
Heal Our Planet Earth (HOPE)