Rare Maned Lionesses Explained
by Christine Dell’Amore
If it looks like a male lion and is perceived as a male lion—well, sometimes it isn’t. That’s the case of Africa’s unusual maned lionesses, which sport a male’s luxurious locks and may even fool competitors.
Though uncommon, maned lionesses have been regularly sighted in the Mombo area of Botswana‘s Okavango Delta (including the individual pictured below), where the lion population may carry a genetic disposition toward the phenomenon, according to Luke Hunter, president of the big-cat conservation group Panthera, which collaborates with National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative. (The Society owns National Geographic News.)
Hunter said it’s possible that maned lionesses in Mombo are related—including a safari favorite named Martina, which disappeared in 2002. Such masculine females likely occur when the embryo is disrupted, either at conception or while in the womb, he said by email.
“If the former case, the genetic contribution of the sperm—which determines the sex of the fetus in most mammals—was probably aberrant, giving rise to a female with some male characteristics…
(read more: National Geo) (photos: T - Deon de Villers; B - Ryan Green)