Like the alpha male leader of a deer herd, and like the alpha male leader of virtually all other mammal species, the alpha male of a lion pride is the most obvious leadership role-player. As usual, the central issues revolve around survival and reproduction, and all alpha male mammals want to make sure that they participate in most if not all of the reproducing. Alpha male lions seem to come right out of central casting, which probably explains why they show up in movie logos and why a lion community is called a “pride.” As is the case in virtually all other mammal species, there is a hierarchy of power not only among the male lions, but also among the females; the alpha female is the favored spouse within the harem of the alpha male.


As is the case among other predatory species, lion prides are quite small compared to the large herds of animals upon which they prey. Alpha male lions are not only fiercely competitive with the other males in the pride, they are also quite unwilling when it comes to spending time and energy hunting down prey. The female lions do virtually all the hunting, and they collaborate as a team to bring home the metaphorical bacon. They approach a herd of wildebeests or zebras from upwind to avoid detection by their smell. After they get close enough to initiate a chase, they target the youngest, oldest, weakest, and slowest members of the herd to make their job easier. Once the chase begins, the herd generally stampedes en masse, knowing instinctively that there is safety in numbers – a few members of the herd will probably not survive, but the vast majority will.


Once the hunt is over and the meal has been secured, the alpha male once again asserts his dominance by feasting first. Other members of the pride do their best to get their share, but they seldom challenge the alpha’s right to the best parts of a fresh carcass.

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