136 views

Fifty feet away three male lions lay by the road. They didn’t appear to have hair on their heads. Nothing the colour of their noses (leonine noses darken as they age, from pink to black), Craig estimated that they were six years old-young adults. “This is wonderful!” he said, after staring at them for several moments. “This is what we came to see. They really are maneless.” Craig, a professor at the University of Minnesota, is arguably the leading expert on the majestic Serengeti lion, whose head is mantled in long, thick hair. He and Peyton West, a doctoral student who has been working with him in Tanzania, had never seen the Tsavo lions that live some $200$ miles east of the Serengeti. The scientific had partly suspected that the maneless males were adolescents mistaken for adults by amateur observers. Now they knew better.

The Tsavo research expedition was mostly Peyton’s show. She had spent several years in Tanzania, compiling the data she needed to answer a question that ought to have been answered long ago: Why do lions have manes? It’s the only cat, wild ot domestic, that displays such ornamentation. In Tsavo East do riddle from the opposite angle. Why-do its lions not have manes? (Some “maneless” lions in Tsavo East do have partial manes,  but they rarely attain the regal glory of the Serengeti lions’.) Does environmental adaptation account for the trait? Are the lions of Tsavo, as some people believe, a distinct subspecies of their Serengti cousins?

The Serengeti lions have been under continuous observation for more than $35$ years, beginning with George Schaller’s pioneering work in the $1960$s. But the lions in Tsavo, Kenya’s oldest and largest protected ecosystem, have hardly been studied. Consequently, legends have grown up around them. Not only do they look different, according to the myths, they behave differently, displaying greater cunning and aggressiveness. “Remember too,” Kenya: The Rough Guide warns, “Tsavo’s lions have a reputation of ferocity.” Their fearsome image became well-known in $1898,$ when two males stalled construction of what is now Kenya railways by allegedly killing and eating $135$ Indian and African labourers. A British Army officer in charge of building a railroad bridge over the Tsavo River, Lt. Col. J. H Patterson, spent nine months pursuing the pair before he brought them to bay and killed them. Stuffed and mounted, they now glare at visitors to the Field Museum in Chicago. Patterson’s account of the leonine reign of terror, The Man-Eaters of Tsavo, was an international best-seller when published in $1907.$ Still in print, the book has made Tsavo’s lions notorious. That annoys some scientists. “People don’t want to give up on mythology,” Dennis King told me one day. The zoologist has been working in Tsavo off and on for four years. “I am so sick of this man-eater business. Patterson made a helluva lot of money off that story, but Tsavo’s lions are no more likely to turn man-eater than lions from elsewhere.

But tales of their savagery and wiliness don’t all come from sensationalist authors looking to make a buck. Tsavo lions are generally larger than lions elsewhere, enabling them to take down the predominant prey animal in Tsavo, the Cape buffalo, one of the strongest, most aggressive animals of Earth. The buffalo don’t give up easily: They often kill or severely injure an attacking lion, and a wounded lion might be more likely to turn to cattle and humans for food.

And other prey is less abundant in Tsavo than in other trasitional lion haunts. A hungry lion is more likely to attack humans. Safari guides of Kenya Wildlife Service rangers tell of lions attacking Land Rovers, raiding camps, stalking tourists. Tsavo is a tough neighbourhood, they say, and it breeds tougher lions.

But are they really tougher? And if so, is there any connection between their manelessness and their ferocity? An intriguing hypothesis was advanced two years ago by Ginoske and Peterhans: Tsavo lions may be similar to the unmanned cave lions of the Pleistocene. The Serengeti variety is among the most evolved of the species-the latest model, so to speak-while certain morphological differences in Tsavo lions (bigger bodies, smaller skulls, and may be even lack of a mane) suggest that they are closer to primitive ancestor of all lions. Craig and Peyton and had serious doubts about this idea, but admitted that Tsavo lions pose a mystery to science.

The sentence which concludes the first paragraph, “Now they knew better”, implies that:

1. The two scientists were struck by wonder on seeing maneless lions for the first time.
2. Though Craig was an expert on the Serengeti lion, now he also knew about the Tsavo lions
3. Earlier, Craig and West thought that amateur observers had been mistaken
4. Craig was now able to confirm that darkening of the noses as lions aged applied to Tsavo lions as well.