Female lions very rarely have manes due to relatively high levels of testosterone. Male lions can lose their mane for the opposite reason: low levels of testosterone, after, for example, being castrated.
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In Sept 2016, NewScientist reported that a team lead by Geoffrey Gilfillan from the University of Sussex had observed five lionesses with manes at the Moremi Game Reserve in Botswana’s Okavango delta.
One of them, labelled SaFO5, was outstanding in this regard. She was larger than most females and although she mated with males in the pride she demonstrated male behaviour in:
- increased scent marking;
- increased roaring;
- mounting other females;
- bringing down a zebra (presumed single-handedly);
- killing 2 cubs from a pride who stole the zebra.
These females were infertile as none became pregnant. This is known to be due to high levels of testosterone in females.
The scientists are investigating but believe that there is a genetic reason behind this group of maned females, called ‘masculinised females’.
Masculinised females may benefit the pride. The study started in March 2014 and lasted for two years. Gilfillan focused on SaF05.
On males, manes attract females who prefer the darker variants. The mane protects them in fights. Some males are maneless or have scanty manes (sparse fur). This is sometimes due to hot climates in Asia. In Africa the male Tsavo lions generally do not have manes. This may be due to the climate as having no mane improves heat loss and/or due to the thorny vegetation that snags in the mane.
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