5 Ways Cecil the Lion Helped Scientists Understand Big Cats

(Image: © Paula French | Shutterstock.com)

When an American big-game hunter shot and killed a famous lion named Cecil in Zimbabwe last month, he did a lot more than kill an animal — he killed a significant research subject.

Cecil, a 13-year-old male Southwest African lion, have been part of an ecological study in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park since 2008. The initiative originated by researchers at the University of Oxford in britain, and is one of the conservation projects managed by the university’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU).

In recent weeks, the WildCRU researchers who was simply studying Cecil from enough time the big cat was 5 years old have given numerous interviews and posted an abundance of information on the WildCRU website to describe what they learned from Cecil before his death. Listed below are five ways Cecil and the other lions mixed up in study have helped science. [In Photos: A Lion’s Life]

1. Deeply perturbed

The death of Cecil will probably lead to the death of several more lionsbecause of what WildCRU researchers call the «perturbation effect.» When the male leader of a pride is killed, other, nonrelated males vie for the newly available top spot typically. If the first choice had brothers, the brand new coalition will kill them. If the first choice left out cubs, rival males will kill them aswell, according to researchers.

WildCRU scientists intend to closely take notice of the effects of Cecil’s death within the lion’s former pride, according to a recently available post on the group’s website. David Macdonald, WildCRU’s co-founder and director, called Cecil’s death «heartbreaking» but said the organization’s goal is to understand out of this event in the coming weeks.

2. Total «bros»

Lion brothers have complex, intimate relationships. When Cecil was initially fitted with a GPS collar in 2008, he was traveling around Hwange National Parkwith his brother, looking for a pride of females that they could claim as their own. This behavior, referred to as «dispersing,» is typical for young male lions and usually results in a huge fight between your young males and the lions that are leading whatever pack the children try to dominate, Macdonald explained in his recent post.

Cecil and his brother took over their first pride in 2008, however they didn’t hold it for long. In ’09 2009, an aggressive neighboring pride challenged the brothers’ rule, and Cecil’s brother was killed in what Macdonald called a «border skirmish.»

3. Turn the other cheek

The pride that had wrested power from Cecil and his brother were referred to as the «Askari» coalition, so when Cecil’s brother died, so did the first choice of the Askari — another GPS-collared lion named Mpofu. But Mpofu left out three sons who continued to rule the pride after their father’s death.

Among Mpofu’s sons, Jericho, was later ousted from the pride after trophy hunters killed both of his brothers. Things were looking pretty grim for Jericho until he met up along with his former enemy, Cecil, who had also just been kicked from the pride he previously managed for quite some time. Although two got off to a rocky start, they became inseparable later, Macdonald said.

Unrelated male lions often form brotherly bonds because keeping a pride, and the territory that is included with it, is an excessive amount of work for just one lion just, according to Macdonald, who said in addition, it «is practical» for unrelated males to synergy to be able to «access a pride.»

4. Always on the run

Lions have a tendency to call a huge swath of wilderness home. In Hwange National Park, GPS-collared lions have already been recognized to inhabit «home ranges» (the areas where an animal lives and travels) covering a lot more than 116 square miles (300 square kilometers), according to Andrew Loveridge, a longtime researcher with WildCRU’s Hwange ecology project.

In a 2012 interview with the writers of Oxford’s science weblog (that was recently republished online), Loveridge said lions’ wide «ranging» behavior and their capability to traverse many types of terrain are both surprising and intriguing. [Photos: The Wild Cats of Kruger National Park]

WildCRU researchers once observed a 10-year-old male lion (Loveridge didn’t specify whether it had been Cecil) move from Hwange National Park to a town in Zambia — a 137-mile (220 km) journey that took the lion in regards to a month to complete. Coming, the lion crossed a river that was a lot more than 300 feet (100 meters) wide, navigating through white-water rapids to get across. Focusing on how lions move is vital to protecting these creatures from contentious encounters with humans, Loveridge said.

5. Super-responsive

Lions are proficient at choosing the flow, according to Loveridge, who said that the Hwange study has revealed one particularly «unusual» way that lions adapt their behavior to match right into a local ecosystem.

In Hwange National Park, rangers provide water for wildlife at pumped waterholes through the dry season artificially. These waterholes attract plenty of prey species, in addition to a few larger animals, like elephants, that lions don’t typically follow, Loveridge said in the weblog post.

The Hwange lions not merely include these rare water sources within their ranges, however they likewise have adapted to hunt the elephants that are attracted to these accepted places, the researchers said. The lions only follow elephant calves, but even those animals are rather large when compared to lions’ typical prey. The predators’ tendency to attack baby elephants relates to the dryness of the growing season; lions will follow elephants when there exists a shortage of water and the elephants must travel long distances to think it is, Loveridge said.

Follow Elizabeth Palermo @techEpalermo. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Initial article on Live Science.

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5 Ways Cecil the Lion Helped Scientists Understand Big Cats