The Dance of Dominance and Submission Between Lions

It all started with the death of a zebra.

We heard its terrified, high-pitched bark echoing across the Mara.  It took us five minutes driving like a bat out of hell to reach it, but by the time we arrived it was laying at the bottom of a gully in a striped heap, alone.


The male and female as we found them when Ping, my guide, and I arrived.

Twenty yards away, a black-maned male and a lioness sat quietly in the high grass as if nothing had happened.

Fellow travelers who saw the encounter said that the female brought down the zebra but the male, appearing out of nowhere, chased her from her prize. Paws flew, growling ensued. She was in his territory and he didn’t like it one bit. From the look of his belly—full and round—He wasn’t hungry, he just didn’t want her to have it.

The lioness rose and bolted west towards a hill in the distance, her gait a powerful trot as she floated across the plain. The male followed in hot pursuit and we watched as their shrinking silhouettes disappeared over the summit.

From the east, two sets of ears worked their way through the grass towards us. Occasionally, white-whiskered muzzles tilted skyward, sniffing the air. Two females from the lioness’ pride were on their way. Would they help the lioness? Would there be a fight?

Everyday, lions engage in a subtle dance of dominance and submission.

Only this time, we got to watch.


Two females working their way through the grass towards the hill where the male and the lioness waited.


At the top of the plateau we found the male and the lioness, once again, sitting quietly in the grass. When the two females approached, the male got up and walked toward them. He held his head and shoulders high, his stride had strength and purpose. The females kept their heads low and crouched submissively as they circled and sniffed each other.


When the male approached this female she didn’t let him to get too close.


Each female had a unique behavior. The lion on the far left continually snarled, which seemed antagonistic, but her posture was the most submissive of the three. The middle lion, was the temptress. She repeatedly drew the male’s attention by raising her tail and nuzzling him, but would never let him mount her. The first lioness (on the right) sat most of the time, watched and waited.

Commercial break. After 5 minutes of tap dancing around each other, they all took a little breather.

In between their various interactions, the lions would inexplicably stop to sit or lie down as if a director had yelled “Cut!”


Low to the ground, her ears pulled back and utterly submissive, the snarling female didn’t seem thrilled to have the male’s undivided attention.


Coming to her rescue, the temptress went from flirty to down right slutty, rubbing her back end into the male’s face.


The temptress placed herself in front of the male as if to mate, but the second he got into position she scooted forward out of his reach. (The year before I witnessed a similar interaction. A female, trying to lure an amorous male away from her cub for fear he would kill it. She used her femininely wiles to lead him miles from her offspring.  You can read about it here: The Lion Lap Dance. )


Another  break.


Near the end of the sighting, the females inexplicably attacked the male from either side.


The male spun around, lashing at them in return. The temptress on the left, the snarler on the right, while the first lioness continued to sit and watch. And as quickly as it began, it was over.


When the night came to a close a fourth female arrived, giving the male even more to think about. Within minutes the plain was doused in black and reluctantly, we headed back to camp.


~Taken while a guest of Mara Plains Camp in Kenya.


49 replies »

Please feel free to comment, contribute or ask questions. I would love to hear from you.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s