Queen of the Jungle


This is Mmamoriri. She’s a rather unusual lioness. As you can see, not only does she have a full mane, but it is quite dark which is indicative of high testosterone levels, even for a male lion.

The media has managed to make a right mess of this story. My favorite is the piece in the Independent which manages to suggest that this is an evolutionary adaptation, states that Mmamoriri is probably infertile, but adds that she will probably be able to pass on her unusual features to her offspring.

Fortunately they link to a report by an actual scientist in Africa Geographic. This dispenses with all the nonsense about evolution and mutations, and instead focuses on the much more likely explanation of an intersex condition. Chromosome testing has shown that Mmamoriri is XX, but as the article notes there are other conditions well documented in humans that could explain such features in lions.

Interestingly the researchers monitoring Mmamoriri’s pride have noticed other lionesses with similar features in other groups. They think that the relatively isolated nature of the lion population on Chief’s Island in the Okavango Delta, Botswana may be part of the explanation for this.

Some of the reaction I have seen on Twitter has praised Mmamoriri for adopting male gender performance, but a mane is not clothing; she had no choice in this. Human women who have beards get bullied rather than praised. Thankfully lions don’t appear to be so obsessed with biological essentialism. There’s no suggestion in the scientific reports that Mmamoriri has been in any way ostracized by her pride because of her appearance. Obviously lions are much more sensible than humans.

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