Can a lion kill a human baby

Infanticide in lions

Exclusively for zoos.media - August 6th, 2019. Author: Philipp J. Kroiß

It happens again and again that lions kill their offspring - in nature and in human care. Why is that? What does this behavior mean for the animals?

Infanticide in lions

It's a topic that isn't often discussed, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. But especially after the recent events in Leipzig, animal rights organizations will again address this issue unilaterally and want to fool the public in order to stir up their agenda, which is directed against any form of animal husbandry. Why is it so seldom spoken of? Well, it's hard to initiate - especially at a time when there has been a complete romanticization of wildlife. That is why some people can no longer imagine the simplest facts. A hard start helps here: Lions sometimes kill their offspring. That's so. That's not nice. But that will always be the case, because it is natural behavior.

Taboo subject: infanticide

However, this does not only happen with lions: other big cats do it, dolphins, bears and many other species including otters and mongooses. Ultimately, it's pretty common. At the same time, however, it is not the norm either, because most of the young animals get through. However, at the same time it is almost a rule that a certain proportion of young animals is killed by the animals themselves. Many people humanize animals and it is inconceivable for them that their favorite animals, which they like so much, would do that, because we humans would ostracize and punish such an act. But nature works completely differently than our human coexistence.

The best known, also in the context of the lion, is the form of infanticide, in which a new dominant male comes into a group and kills the existing young. The reason for this is that the females then quickly mature again and the new male can then reproduce. It's a horrific crime from a human perspective, but completely normal from a lion's perspective - that too shows why it wouldn't really work with an implementation of animal rights. In Leipzig, however, it was a filial infanticide, which means that the mother killed her own offspring here.

Infanticide in general always has the reason to maintain genetic fitness of the species by killing animals that would not be conducive to it. For example, a lioness kills her offspring if she decides that she would be better off without him - that is, has a higher chance of survival. Packer & Pusey (1984), for example, were able to show that lionesses who get rid of one of them after littering two cubs can generate greater reproductive success in their lives. In addition, lion mothers kill their offspring if they are disabled or if they have similar characteristics that they consider to be flaws. The killed young animals are then usually consumed by the mother - that is also normal.

Accept decisions

This happens in nature as well as in human care. In nature, however, very few people really notice it, but in the zoo they do. One must not consider this behavior with human standards, but must understand the killing as a decision of the lions - a decision that one cannot understand as a human, but also does not have to, because they are lions and not humans. It is their form of birth control and since it is their offspring, it is also their choice. Nothing about this is abnormal or has anything to do with keeping animals in captivity.

One can also prevent infanticide. Then you anesthetize the lioness, take the babies out of the litter box and raise them by hand. That in turn also has advantages and disadvantages. If you decide not to intervene, there are also advantages and disadvantages. There is always a weighing up of how to deal with lion births. Usually the decision is currently made to trust in the mother and let her make the decisions. If you look outside the box of lions, it can also make sense not to leave these decisions to the mother in breeding programs that involve the life or death of an entire species, because the genetic value of the offspring is too important for the breeding project is. Likewise, if the lioness is known to commit infanticides, one could make the decision that one would raise the animals by hand and at least one litter would help to survive.

Such decisions are not made by outsiders, but by the stud bookkeeper in consultation with the experts at the zoo on site. There is no decision here without certain advantages and disadvantages, which makes them difficult to make. But if you want to leave this decision to a lioness for good reasons, you have to bear this risk. Kigali is a young lioness and inexperienced mothers sometimes do that: that doesn't make them an “evil” animal or a “raven mother”, but nothing more than a normal lioness to gain experience. She will get pregnant again and then probably do it differently, because first-time births have a higher probability of killing their young - they are not the perfect mothers from the beginning, but usually only develop through experience.

Look positively into the future

With all the mourning for the young animals, which will only exist from humans, one must now look positively into the future in the interest of the animal and the species. Kigali can continue to participate in the breeding program and will hopefully soon become the mother of healthy Transvaal lion babies. This very special subspecies produces both normal colored lions, as it is, and white lions. Your latin name Panthera leo krugeriindicates a very well-known national park. In the Timbavati animal reserve in the Greater Kruger Area, you can also find white lions that have been released into the wild and even hunt successfully there. In the classic Kruger National Park (also called Kruger National Park in German) you tend to see normal-colored animals like Kigali.

Like all lions, this subspecies is also threatened. Zoos are increasingly switching to breeding lions as subspecies, because subspecies hybrids have educational value to get people excited about lions in general and are therefore also important, but they cannot go back to nature because they would falsify the fauna. Therefore, it makes sense to gradually reduce the proportion of subarthybrids, but of course you have to make sure that all lions can lead a lion-fair life, which also includes participation in a pride. That is why one cannot do without the subarthybrids entirely, because long-term contraceptives can have serious side effects in lions and breeding cannot be completely stopped in an animal-friendly manner.

One would like to release lions out of human care, which of course will only be possible with animals with the appropriate genetic suitability. The Persian lion, for example, is said to soon make its way back into nature, but this is currently being blocked by Iran's Ministry of the Environment. This also shows that the repatriation of lions is not a sprint, but a marathon with many steps that you have to take. However, breeding makes sense even without being released into the wild, because keeping them enables important education and research, which also make an important contribution to species protection. This requires a stable lion population in captivity, and zoological institutions do a wonderful job to sustain it - Kigali is also an important part of it.