In Summary
  • Whereas the lion is the alpha and macho man of the wilds, the zebra is the sentimental and caring male.
  • The moment his female companion or companions become pregnant, he makes it his duty to stand by her.

  • He will be there, doing sentry duty, when the calf is born and stands by his family until the calf is old enough to fend for itself.

The lion and the zebra may both live cheek by jowl in the vast savannahs of the Maasai Mara, no two animals are so unlike when it comes to fatherhood. But both the carnivore and the herbivore have important lessons they can teach me on the subject.

DISTANCE

On any given day, Father Lion is aloof to his cubs, keeping his distance high up in the rocky knolls as Mother Lioness plays with her young ones most day, rolling in the grass, cleaning each others coats and, when hunger pangs bite, going for the kill as one.

But the lioness and her cubs know that when they have zeroed in on a prey that is too big or too strong for them, they can always count on the lion – the pride of the pride so to speak – to deliver the killer blow. Unfortunately for the lioness and her little ones, once lunch has been served, they have to step back a respectable distance and wait until the king of the jungle has had his fill. That is why what Father Lion eats is called "the lion's share". But to his credit, and unlike many a man in the animal kingdom, he is present at most meal times.

Once in a while, the lioness and her cubs will bring down an eland, or a wildebeest, and gobble it down without the knowledge of the lion. That is what we witnessed when we visited the Olare Motorogi Conservancy, one of the 17 conservancies in the Maasai Mara.

"How come the lion is not here to share in the meal?” we asked, marvelling at the satiated lioness lying in the grass as her cubs tore away juicy pieces off the body of a wildebeest.

"He did not get the memo," said our guide Philip Mushaba, who works for the Olare Mara Kempinski camp, a five-star establishment that offers its guests a touch of European luxury mixed with an authentic African experience of the wilds.

Indeed, the lion was away surveying his territory. As the dominant male in his pride, one of his key responsibilities is to secure his family and keep away the competition. The day he is not strong enough to fight them off is the day he loses his all and is cast away to die in ignominy. And because he has to fight many other males to secure his territory, this reduces his life expectancy to 12 years compared to 16 for the lioness.

Unlike the lioness, for whom bonding with the young ones is the biggest responsibility, the lion spends most of his time alone.

SENTIMENTAL

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