Simple rule of thumb for lion-hunters

February 22, 2004

Trophy-hunters in Africa can safeguard lion populations by shooting only male lions that have mostly black noses, according to research published online on February 22, 2004 by Nature. As lions’ noses grow darker with age, this ensures that only the oldest males are killed.

The strategy will prevent prides from changing hands too frequently, explain Craig Packer and colleagues. When new males take over a pride, they usually kill the cubs to ensure that females devote themselves to raising new young. With high turnover rates, too many cubs are killed and the population declines.

Packer’s team calculates that quotas would be unnecessary as long as hunters take only males that are at least five years old. Trophy-hunters are generally only interested in older males with well-developed manes. Mane size and coloration are unreliable indicators of age, but the authors point out that males’ noses become more freckled as they get older—Serengeti lions have 50% dark noses at the age of five, giving hunters a simple rule of thumb.

Abstract © 2004 Nature

“Sustainable trophy hunting of African lions,” Karyl Whitman, Anthony M. Starfield, Henley S. Quadling & Craig Packer, Nature, February 22, 2004

Craig Packer, University of Minnesota

To learn more about lion communication, why males kill cubs, and Packer’ s earlier research, read The Lion’s Roar.