Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Study: Lion's mane a cool response

For a lion, having a bushy, dark mane is not a sign of greater sexual prowess and appeal, contrary to what researchers thought. And most of the famed "maneless" lions of the Tsavo region of Kenya, which became notorious in the late 19th century as man-eaters, actually do grow manes.
These surprising conclusions are the result of a seven-year study of East African lions. The study, published in the current issue of the Journal of Zoology, revealed that mane growth is most closely correlated with climate - that lions that live in higher altitudes with cooler weather generally have more profuse manes.
It also found that lion manes continue to grow after an animal has reached sexual maturity and that the best-maned lions are typically rather old. "Usually lions are well past their breeding prime when they carry the most extensive and often darkest manes of their lives," said co-author Julian C. Kerbis Peterhans of the Field Museum in Chicago. The researchers found no support for the theory that the "maneless" lions of Tsavo have a leonine version of male-pattern baldness.  While the Tsavo lions do tend to have lesser manes, the researchers said that was a function of their relatively low-lying habitat.

The researchers studied the wild lions of the Tsavo valley and the Serengeti range in Tanzania, adjacent areas that differ only in their elevation and climate. The researchers did not study captive lions because of the many ways they and their lives are different from wild animals, including inbreeding, stress, chronic inactivity and climate-controlled environments.

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