Group hunting behaviour of lions: a search for cooperation

D. Scheel, C. Packer

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The participation of individual African lions, Panthera leo, during 64 communal hunts of four prey species was measured to quantify the extent to which lions cooperate and the factors affecting the degree of cooperation. The extent of individual participation in communal hunts varied significantly. Finite mixture models were used to determine the probability that each lion's behaviour belonged to each of three strategies: 'refraining' (non-participation in hunts), 'conforming' (active participation in groups in which all individuals behaved similarly) and 'pursuing' (active participation in groups where individual behaviour varies). Our analysis reveals two important trends. First, males refrain more and pursue less than females. Second, refraining during a group hunt is more common during hunts of prey that appear to be easier to capture: lions are more likely to refrain during hunts of wart hog, Phacochoerus aethiopicus, and less likely to refrain during hunts of zebra, Equus burchelli, and buffalo, Syncerus caffer. Of the alternatives considered, the data indicate that refraining is 'cheating' and that lions exhibiting this strategy are thus exploiting the hunting behaviour of their companions. These results are discussed in the framework of a recent game-theoretical model of cooperative hunting.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)697-709
Number of pages13
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1991

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Gary Oehlert for suggesting and fitting the mixed distributions and calculating posterior probabilities; L.-A. Giraldeau and one anonymous referee for helpful comments on the manuscript; David S. Babu, Director of Tanzania National Parks, Karim Hirji, Coordinator of the Serengeti Wildlife Research Institute, and the Tanzanian National Scientific Research Council for permission and facilities; and Steve Scheel, Jon Grinnell, Barbie Allen, Marcus Borner, Anne Pusey, John Fanshawe, Larry Herbst, Bruce Davidson, Richard Mathews, Samantha Purdy, Alan Root, Charlie Trout and Ken Scheel for assistance. Supported by NSF grants BSR 8406935 and 8507087 to C.P. and Anne Pusey; and by Dayton Natural History Fund of the Bell Museum of Natural History fellowships, and a University of Minnesota Doctoral Dissertation fellowship to D.S.


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