Pride Lands Online
"Lions can be fearful animals"
by Paul Recer
Associated Press
September 2, 1995.

-Cowardly felines of the African plains aren't just in Oz, study says

Washington--Sorry, Dorothy, but there ARE cowardly lions that not even the Wizard can fix.

________On the plains of Africa, some lions fearlessly defend territory and family. Others are heroic only some of the time. But researchers have found that still other lions are cowardly enough to always avoid the most dangerous risk faced by the big cats--fighting with other lions.
________Craig Packer of the University of Minnesota said that a study of lion families, or prides, in Tanzania shows that the animals live in a subtle and complex society that allows for many different personality types. The study is to be published this week in the journal "Science".
________Lions are not all brave, Packer said, despite a public perception that has even put the word "lion-hearted" into the language. In the movie and book "The Wizard of Oz", the cowardice of a lion character was considered so unusual that Dorothy--the heroine--thought that it would take the magic of a Wizard to correct. "Most people look on lions as outrageously cooperative and courageous animals," Packer said. "But there is a lot more complexity there, a lot of reluctance and a lot of selfishness."
________Packer and Robert Heinsohn of the Australian National University in Canberra studied cooperation and courage among female lions by creating phantom intruders near eight lion family groups in Tanzania.
________The researchers set up a tape player and speakers within 200 yards of a resting lion group and then played recorded roars of strange lions.
________Lions will defend to the death their hunting grounds, so the sounds represented challenges to fight.
________"When one pride has a battle with its neighbor, the lions are quite often injured or killed," said Packer. "The most dangerous thing in a lion's world are other lions."
________The first defender to confront intruders is the most likely to get hurt. Thus, by measuring the response of lions to the recorded roars, Heinsohn and Packer were able to assess the courage of each member of the pride.
________They found that in all prides there are female lions that immediately will stalk away to challenge the intruders.
________"These are the leaders who always go," said Packer.
________Others in the pride might be either "conditional heroes" or "conditional cowards," depending on the odds.
________The conditional heroes go into battle with the leaders only if their presence is essential to assure victory. If, for instance, their presence could even the odds, then the conditional hero fights, said Packer. But if her side already has the clear advantage, then the conditional hero may stay home.
________Conditional cowards, conversely, will go into battle only if the odds are overwhelmingly in their favor--for instance, fives lions against two. At even odds or less, conditional cowards will not fight," Packer said.
________Then there are what Packer called "the pure cowards. These are the jerks who would always hang back and couldn't be counted on."
________Lions in the prides seemed to tolerate all levels of courage and none of the cowards were penalized, said Packer. Female lions share cub-raising chores and even nurse each others young. Many in a pride are related--sisters, mothers, aunts or cousins--and courage seemed to have no genetic basis, the researchers said.
________But it apparently starts early in life. Packer said that some of the prides have been studied for years and that even as cubs, the lions showed tendencies toward courage or timidity.
________"It looks like these animals acquired these traits quite young, in their adolescence," said Packer. "Then those traits persisted even into adulthood."
________In defending their home, lions tend to keep the genders separate.
________"In a typical territorial dispute, it's males against males and females against females," said Packer. A study of male lion courage is not complete, he said.

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