The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is home to nine Transvaal lions. In standard zoo record keeping, they are listed as 3.6 lions. That does not mean that we have three and a half lions, but rather 3 males and 6 female lions. Lions are one of the most well known examples of sexual dimorphism, meaning that the two sexes look different from one another. This can refer to a difference in size, coloration, or ornamentation. In the case of lions, only the males develop a mane around their head and neck.
A lion’s mane serves many purposes. The appearance of a mane, including the color and size of it, communicates to females that that particular male is strong and able to provide for his pride. In the same sense, a lion’s mane also lets outside males know that he will be able to defend his pride from rival lions. Should two males fight for the right to breed with females, the thick mane helps protect the head from injury.
At the Safari Park, we have three male lions in different stages of mane development. Our oldest male Izu, will be 12 years old in November. His mane is fully developed and is very striking. As male lions age, their mane gets darker in color. Ken will be two years old in December and has recently started to develop some coloration around his neck and the top of his head. His mane hair is getting longer and will continue to fill out until he is about five years old. Ernest turned one year old this past June and has already started to develop his mane. He has no dark coloration yet, but the hair around his chest is longer than that of his sisters, making it much easier to tell him apart. Be sure to stop by Lion Camp to check out these impressive hair dos!
Lacey Byrnes is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.