How Some Lions Learn a Dangerous Habit

Like some other smart and social species, lions often learn from each other. This so-called “social learning” is generally advantageous for animals, since it enables helpful behaviors to spread through groups; dolphins learn from their mothers to use sponges as tools, monkeys learn to wash sweet potatoes from other members of their troop, and fish learn migration routes from their schools. But social learning can sometimes be a liability for lions, because one behavior they may pick up from their mothers is the risky practice of livestock killing. Once one lion starts raiding bomas, the behavior can snowball through the pride, creating a family-wide pattern that’s difficult to stop and can have dire consequences for the entire group.

We are currently seeing the ramifications of this learned behavior across a wide area, as the young animals from Selenkay’s pride are now dispersing to the north and south. It’s shocking to observe how the offspring of a single boma-raider back in 2009 and 2010 – a lioness named Asama – have adopted her behaviors, and the effects are now rippling out across the ecosystem.

Asama, the boma raider

Kind of like training dogs to pee outside, we are now actively attempting to train these lions to understand that boma-raiding is not an option, and humans are top predators that should be avoided at all costs. Our hope is that we can break this pattern in order to mitigate the conflict.

You can read more about Asama and her livestock-killing habits here:


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