Moremi Game Reserve in Botswana has come under the spotlight with the discovery off five rare maned lionesses.

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Location
Moremi Game Reserve rests on the eastern side of the Okavango Delta and was named after Chief Moremi of the Batswana tribe. The Reserve covers much of the eastern side of the Okavango Delta and combines permanent water with drier areas, which create some startling and unexpected contrasts.

Traits
While sporadic reports of maned lionesses have been recorded in the past, researchers have now observed the existence of five such animals. The lionesses seen at the Moremi Game Reserve exhibit a number of masculine characteristics.
Well formed manes, masculine stature and reverberating roars.
Scent marking at a similar frequency, and even mounting other females.
Killing cubs from neighbouring prides.

Causes
Researchers say high amounts of testosterone could be to blame for this phenomenon as it is known that the hormone is directly tied to the development of the mane.
According to Luke Hunter, president of the global wild cat conservation organization Panthera, the most probable explanation for this rare phenomenon is  most likely high levels of testosterone.
The lionesses’ testosterone may be increased because of aberrant sperm that gave female embryos some male characteristics, or because their mothers may have had high testosterone levels that increased their exposure to the hormones in the womb.
Another theory suggests undescended testicles as a contributing factor – whereby the lionesses have female external genitalia but the chromosomal constitution and reproductive organs of a male, though the testes may be malformed or absent.
Although the maned lionesses in Botswana appear to be healthy, none of them have become pregnant thus far, further supporting the theory that increased amounts of androgens, like testosterone, may be the underlying cause of infertility.
Genetics may also play a role, as it is believed that the lionesses all originate from the same region. The lion population in the area may have a genetic abnormality that causes the condition, especially if they have been isolated by seasonal flood waters that forced them to start inbreeding.

Outlook
Despite their rare condition, these lionesses seem to thrive in their environment, appearing to enjoy the conventional life span of these majestic beasts. These unique females may actually be an asset to the pride – rival males and other predators are deterred as it appears that there are more males in the pride. This is an added advantage for defending not only a larger territory, but also for securing the pride’s kills.

 

VF24 Editor