It seems that the animal kingdom tolerates all kinds of lifestyle, including homosexual, bisexual and non-reproductive sex.
By Day 3 in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania, I'd seen a lion with a kill, a lion courting his lady, a lion being a shampoo model and most lions being grumpy about human company. I thought I had my lion’s share of great sightings. So when my guide chanced upon a large pride, I was concentrated on counting the number of busybodied lions and bouncy cubs cohabitating. In the shade was a couple in embrace. Nothing is more beautiful than fierce animals mushy in love. As my heart was sending out a long string of 'Aww', I noticed that neither of the two was sporting a mane. They were both lionesses. Unless one of them had just been to the hairdressers for a close crop. I waited for the guide to say something. And, the rest of my family to echo my thoughts. No words. Did they notice what I was saw?
The two lions were looking at each other tenderly, nuzzling, necking, one was licked the other’s face with mooney eyes and they fell into an affectionate embrace. It warmed the cockles of my heart. This did not look like a display of sisterhood among lionesses, it definitely appeared romantic. I gently broached the subject by asking Swedi, my guide, if they were both lady lions. He mumbled an answer that was rather unspecific.
I was pretty sure I’d chanced upon a same sex couple in lions. Can lions be homosexual?
So I started researching.
Wikipedia says that same-sex behavior like courtship, affection, sexual activity, pair bonding and parenting has been documented in over 450 species of animals. It seems that the animal kingdom tolerates all kinds of lifestyle, including homosexual, bisexual and non-reproductive sex, "...More than the scientific community and society at large have been previously willing to accept,” says Bruce Bagemihi, a Canadian biologist. However, it is uncommon that individual animals have a long-lasting predisposition to such behavior to the exclusion of hetrosexual activity. Thus, a homosexual orientation, if one can speak of such a thing in animals, seems to be a rarity, except among sheep.
Homosexuality is quite common among lions as well. Male lions often form what is known as a coalition, where they work together to court female lions. They depend on each other to fend off other coalitions. To ensure loyalty, male lions strengthen their bonds by having sex with each other. This is referred by researchers as bromance rather than sexual pairing.
Both male and female lions have been seen to interact homosexually. Male lions pair-bond for a number of days and initiate homosexual activity with affectionate nuzzling and caressing, leading to mounting and thrusting. About 8% of mountings have been observed to occur with other males. Pairings between females are held to be fairly common in captivity but have not been observed in the wild.
Had I just seen a sighting so rare, it’s not even documented? So rare that the rest of the members in my jeep didn’t even see it the way I did?
FACTS ABOUT LIONS IN LOVE YOU MAY NOT KNOW
A lioness on her own, may go into false oestrus if she has cubs and if a new male arrives on the scene. She does this to protect her cubs, by diverting his interest away from potentially killing the cubs to mating with her.
A male lion can mate up to 100 times a day in a process that lasts only about 17 seconds. They can keep this up for around four to five days. Phew!
The male lions seldom hang around with the pride to nurture their cubs and may even kill them.
It’s usually lionesses who approach the male of their choosing, rather than the male approaching the female.
The female can mate with a number of different pride males and the males do likewise, resulting in cubs in the same litter having different fathers. This can protect the cubs from infanticide as each male then may believe the cubs belong to him.
When they reach two years old, (sexually mature) the male cubs will be ousted from the pride by the dominant male. Sadly, many will die in the first few weeks, as most are inexperienced hunters. The female cubs are normally allowed to stay in the pride.
Lionesses are often seen biting males during mating. This is because the male’s spiked penis can cause pain when withdrawn, which stimulates ovulation to occur.
In some prides up to 80% of the cubs don’t survive. Either they are killed by other males, or they don’t get enough to eat (they typically eat last in the hierarchy of the pride).
When the dominant male lion is shot by hunters, (always the preferred choice), the effect can be far reaching in the pride, as less genetically strong males step into the dominant male position, weakening the overall genetic make-up of the pride. Over time, and with repetitive hunting, this can seriously affect the pride. Fortunately, many countries have banned hunting.