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Groups which show social behaviour

A pride of lions

Lions live together in a group called a pride. The pride is made up of one dominant male, between 4 to 12 lionesses and their cubs.

lionesses, Kenya © Shirley Burchill

The territory of the pride is between 15km2 and 100km2. The male marks the boundaries of the territory by placing a mixture of scent and urine on bushes and twigs. He also roars loudly to let other animals know that he is there. Other lions are not allowed to hunt in the marked territory.

The male cubs are chased out of the territory by the dominant male when they are between 2 and 3 years old. The young males then have to look after themselves. When they are fully grown they can challenge a dominant male. If the younger male wins, the dominant male is chased out of the territory and any cubs which he fathered are killed.

Part of a pride of lions, Kenya  © Shirley Burchill

The lionesses co-operate in hunting for the pride. All of the lions eat together and the cubs have to fight to get their share. When food is scarce the lionesses eat and their cubs starve. In general, about half of the cubs survive and grow into adults. The females will not have another litter until the cubs are between 18 and 24 months old and are able to look after themselves. This prevents overcrowding within the territory.

The females share the task of looking after the cubs. The lionesses will suckle cubs which are not their own. It is interesting to note, however, that the females and the cubs are all related to each other.

The "peck" order

A cock and hens, Sheffield, UK  © Shirley Burchill

Most vertebrate social groups have what is known as a "peck" order. This means that each member of the group has a specific position on the social ladder. Usually, the number 1 animal has the first choice of food and can chase away the number 2 animal. Likewise the number 2 takes priority over number 3. Changes in the "peck" order take place if one animal successfully challenges another one. The "peck" order can be observed easily in groups of hens and turkeys.


A baboon troop, Tree Tops, Kenya  © Shirley Burchill

Baboon troops are made up of between 10 and 200 individuals. A group unit is composed of a male with a harem of several females and their young. Many of these units band together to form larger troops. The males have masses of around 41kg and are fierce fighters in defence of their females; they will even attack leopards.

African hunting dogs

The African hunting dog lives in a group called a pack. The pack shows a wide variety of social behaviour. The territory of the pack can be up to 520km2. The dominant male marks the boundary with urine. No other pack is allowed to hunt in the territory. The pack consists of between 8 to 20 members including both males and females.

Drawing of an African hunting dog  © Shirley Burchill

The dominant male mates with one of the females in the winter. She gives birth to 4 to 6 puppies in the spring in a temporary den. Although only one female produces the young, they are cared for by all of the females. When the pack goes hunting, one female stays behind to guard the puppies.

The African hunting dogs always hunt in well organised packs. The puppies are always allowed to eat first. As soon as they are old enough, the puppies are taken on practice hunts with the adults.

When the dominant male meets another male of the pack, the dominant male will show an aggressive posture and the other male shows a submissive posture. The dominant male stands with his tail up and his ears pointing forward. He may even show his teeth and growl. The submissive male crouches and holds his tail between his legs. His ears are down and he whines.

Wolves, Hippopotamuses and Elephants

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