The One True King of Dambwa
March 29 2016


Whilst Dambwa pride male Zulu (pictured above) could never be accused of being outwardly hostile to his eldest son, RS2 (pictured below), he hasn’t exactly been an overly affectionate father to him either.  Social interactions such as greeting, grooming and playing between the pair, are scant.  The research team have witnessed Zulu keeping his son at arm’s length with a glare or a growl, and at times displacing him to claim RS2’s spot in the grass or at a carcass.  Unsurprisingly, RS2 has become the most vigilant lion in the pride under the watchful eye of his father.  Sometimes forced to a few metres away from the pride adults, RS2 has enjoyed the company of his siblings who would join him to play, groom or catnap.


However, positive relations between father and eldest son have increased as RS2 gets within 3 months of his third birthday.  During March, the research team observed increasing positive and accepted social interactions between Zulu and RS2.  Very interestingly, some of these have been Zulu approaching his son to greet or groom him, and joining RS2 in his spot in the sun.

Social interactions are routinely recorded and analysed by the team.  Researching wild lions on the Serengeti, George Schaller noted the importance of initiators and receivers of social interactions as indications of dominance within a pride, with dominant wild pride males receiving far more social interactions than they initiate.  Adult females, sub-adults and cubs signal their submission to the pride male through social behaviours such as greeting and grooming him. These behaviours offer one insight into the dominance system within a pride, with sub-adults and cubs typically ranking at the bottom, initiating more social interactions to adults than they receive. 

This graph shows the number of social interactions, initiated and received, that were observed for each Dambwa lion during 2015 to the present day.  Zulu’s dominance in this respect is clear, with a strong green upwards line, showing the difference between what he received and what social interactions he initiated.  We can also see some differences in the adult females.  The sub-adults predictably have green lines pointing downwards, to show that the number of social interactions they initiate outweighs what they receive.  

Well, all young lions except for one.  RS2. 

Dambwa Social Interactions

In 2015 most of these social interactions were coming to RS2 from his female and younger male siblings.  In 2016, they are beginning to come from the adults, including Zulu.  No longer required to sit away from the pride quite so often, his father’s glares and growls are increasingly replaced with greets and grooms.  Is RS2 on the rise?

RS2’s position may be changing and studying this dynamic within the pride is fascinating for the team to watch.  What is certain is Zulu’s alpha status in this pride.  As if to prove the point, on the 28th March, Zulu led his pride (and the research team!) on a 2km scenic tour of some of his favourite spots in the release site, with his family, including RS2, firmly behind him.  RS2 might be the Prince, but there is only one King leading this pride.

Dambwa Pride

About the Dambwa Lion Release Site

The 6 adults (1 male and 5 females) of the ‘Dambwa Pride’ were captive born and released into the ‘Dambwa Lion Release Site’ in 2011, having been walked in the rehabilitation phase of the ex situ conservation project, the African Rehabilitation and Release into the Wild Programme.  The pride’s 6 offspring (3 male and 3 females) were born in the site and have had no human contact, display natural behaviours, and are intended for release into the wild in the final phase of the Programme.

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