A Brutal Side of Lions

A Brutal Side of Lions


When a new coalition of male lions takes over a pride, they kill all the young cubs to bring the pride’s females into heat again. Females sometimes die fighting to defend their cubs.


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When a new coalition of males takes over a pride, they almost always kill the pride's cubs, since they are not biologically related and do not want to spend energy ensuring that other lions’ genes will be passed on. Also, female lions will not be receptive to mating while they are nursing, so killing the cubs enables the male lions to procreate.

The immigrating lions seem to target any cubs that are roughly nine months old or younger – as the mother will still be nursing them – though as in other species, the female will attempt to prevent infanticide by hiding or directly defending their cubs; lionesses are generally more successful at protecting older cubs, as they would be leaving the pride sooner.

Males have, on average, only a two-year window in which to pass on their genes, and lionesses only give birth once every two years, so the selective pressure on them to conform to this behavior is intense. In fact, it is estimated that a quarter of cubs dying in the first year of life are victims of infanticide.

Infanticide by the mother of lion cubs, referred to as filial infanticide (when a parent kills its offspring), has been observed where the mother will deliberately abandon her litter when only one cub remains. It has been determined that females will increase their lifetime reproductive success by abandoning single cubs and investing exclusively in larger litters. It is also noted that abandonment can also occur if the cub is handicapped, weak, or suffering from illness.


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