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Cannibalism of a Lion Cub

A Tale of Dominance and Submission


I was watching a TV show on National Geographic Wild called Caught In The Act that had the description: “Animals are captured on tape in rare and often spontaneous situations. Experts offer us insights into the unique animal behavior.”

There was one situation that stumped the expert. On one of his outings he came across a recently killed lion cub. There were two adult African lions nearby. One adult male African lion picked up the cub and took it into the brush. Once he laid down with it, he lifted his head and huffed loudly. It looked similar to when our domestic house cats lift their heads and open their mouths to catch a sent. The naturalist explained that this is usually a subordinate gesture. Then the lion started to lick the dead cub and continued with shocking unexpected behavior. He became a cannibal and proceeded to eat the dead cub.

Cannibalism in African lions is rare. The expert speculated that this behavior was to make a statement instead of done out of hunger. He guessed that that this cub was probably the adult lion’s offspring. It takes two years for a lioness to be ready to mate after giving birth. So it is not uncommon that a new dominant adult lion will kill cubs so that the lioness will be ready to mate sooner. The expert stated the adult lion is only fertile for three years so the new dominate male probably figured two years is too long to wait and he better kill the cub so the female will be ready sooner.

I ask myself, “What really did happen? Which lion was dominant and who was subordinate? Who killed the cub? Why did the African lion become a cannibal and eat the cub?” There was a clear picture on film of the African lion so I decided to ask him myself.

Here is what the cannibal African Lion said: “He had been circling my territory for many days. Each day he would get closer. There were other females in the area but they did not interest him. I could tell that he was stronger than me by the way he paced around my territory. He had more stamina and a cleverer mind. I knew from the beginning that he was stronger. He lied down and watched the cub for hours before he went after it. I made some advances towards him but they were with poor effort. I knew that if we fought I would not win. I let him kill my cub. I forced myself to watch. I could not run away. I know that if I did not fight him I would be allowed to stay in the territory until I found another of my own. I did not mean to eat the cub when I took it away. I meant to just keep it by my side. I wanted to hide it from the lioness. I did not want her to see it. She has acute smell so I thought if I ate it I could hide it. I told myself that it was one of the bigger game and it was not my cub but the sorrow engulfed me and I felt ashamed. I was not starving. I did not need to eat him.”

I asked him, “Wasn’t the lioness near? She must of known everything that happened and there must have been more cubs then just one.”

The lion answered, “She was out hunting with the other lionesses. There was just one cub. She had two but one died very young.”

I asked what happened when she found the cub missing. He answered, “When she came back she knew instantly because the other lion was there and I was not allowed to get close to her. She had seen the other lion circling our territory so she was not surprised. When I saw her from a distance she asked me what I did with the cub and I told her the cub is in the world of spirit. She had known I had taken it away but she does not know what exactly happened to it. I took the rest of his body far and left it for the jackals.”

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