I'm sorry, I might ruin your childhood, but there is actually no such thing as a lion king.
Part of what makes lion society so fascinating is, unlike other carnivores like chimpanzees or spotted hyenas, they do not have a dominance hierarchy.
So they will form lifelong bonds with their group members.
Male lions will form lifelong bonds with unrelated males, which is super cool in the animal kingdom.
They're one of the very few egalitarian social species out there.
Hey everyone, welcome to Animal IQ.
In every episode we measure what we know about the intelligence of a different animal against the five domains of our rubric.
This week we're going to measure the African lion.
I know you're excited, I'm excited too.
Lions are powerful.
They're highly social and egalitarian.
10,000 years ago, lion-like apex predators stretched from the Americas through Africa to Asia.
And today of course, African lions, they only roam Sub-Saharan Africa, which is why my friend Natalia spends so much time there.
I am so excited for this episode.
Lions are my wheelhouse, specifically lion cognition.
They are the coolest cats in my opinion.
When I started my research, there wasn't a lot that we knew about lion cognition and we still don't know a lot, but we are learning more and more, and I am out there trying to learn more and more.
I love that you brought up their social intelligence because that's something we're going to talk about in this episode a lot.
But their ecological intelligence is also a big deal.
Lions were given a rope pull test.
Two lions had to pull a rope to get a treat and it shows problem solving and cooperation and social interaction and memory, which seems to go against what we have learned in pop culture, right?
Even though they're really tolerant of each other, that's not to say they don't have tiffs or there aren't social dynamics to worry about.
To find out more about the politics of being a lion, I called up my friend, Brian Dowling at Lion Country Safari.
Lion politics, it's ongoing, it never stops.
Sometimes I equate it to my kids.
Sometimes they're the best of friends, but can be the worst of enemies at times.
They want to be together, there's definitely that drive to be together.
But then, when they get so comfortable with each other, they have little spats and quarrels over silly things.
It's not major conflict, it's just like, "I'm grumpy and I don't want you near me."
And then, "Oh, wait a minute.
No, I don't want to be by myself.
I want to hang around all the other lions."
Their body language really communicates a lot.
I heard once that people are... 80% of our communication is non-verbal.
The animals are really in tune with that body language with each other.
Communication is also really important in the wild.
Lions can't always be together when they're in the wild, they travel long distances, so it's important that they're able to know where their group members are.
The way that they accomplish this is through roaring.
But if they are close together, then body language can play a role.
Natalia, how do you learn all of this?
So I spend a lot of time watching lions, whether in the wild or in captivity.
I have spent hours and hours, a lot of time watching them sleep, but when they're not sleeping, they are so fascinating to study.
One of the interesting things, so we know that they can recognize the calls of their group members, but when I work with them in captivity and this is not based on science at all, but it does seem like they remember individual people and they're usually happy to see me because I'm always bringing them fun toys to play with.
We like to display our animals in large, natural social groups, so our lions are displayed in a pride.
Our antelope are displayed in large herds.
So we try to create a situation that's more natural for them and also provides more mental stimulation.
I think living in those larger social groups, for any of the species, it's good for them mentally.
This natural setting lets us test lion cognition in ways that would be really difficult to do in the wild.
So at Lion Country Safari, I was able to give lions puzzle boxes, which is this classic test of cognition.
It tests abilities like innovation, problem solving and memory.
The first time a lion sees the puzzle box, it's the first time they're seeing that problem.
Lions do some trial and error learning.
They eventually have to innovate to solve the problem, which they did, and they also remember the problem solution.
So the first time they solved the box, once they have that light bulb moment, they're really good at remembering that solution and then solving it again and again.
Even a long time, many months later, they remember that solution and get it right away.
I've seen documentaries where lions will actually work together to solve problems, right?
For example, in hunting, as their social measure is super boss, I think we can agree, I'm not surprised that lions can do this.
I just didn't even understand that they could, that they coordinate and individual lions have specialized roles, they're aware of their partner hunter and they base their actions on the actions of that partner.
It seems overwhelmingly sophisticated.
In addition to this overwhelming sophistication in the social measure, we can't discount their ecological or their rational measures.
So, in addition to working together to cooperate to hunt, it's also really important that lions are able to work together to defend their territory and their offspring.
What is so cool is that lions can actually numerically assess a situation.
What I mean by this is, they can determine the odds of whether they're going to win a conflict based on the number of intruders compared to the number of their buddies that are with them to fight back.
The way that researchers know this is, once again, using playback experiments.
So researchers would play the roars of unknown, scary sounding intruder lions to these poor lions in their territory.
If the researchers played say, three roars to a single lion, that single lion would, they were out of there, they weren't going to try and defend their territory, they were outnumbered and they knew it.
But if the lions in their own territory outnumber the intruders, they were then more likely to approach.
So this indicates that lions can assess the odds of winning.
So with all this, we still don't actually know that much about their awareness, right?
How much do lions know about themselves?
We really don't know what they know about themselves.
I did try to do some preliminary mirror tests with them, which is really difficult trying to set up this giant mirror in a lion enclosure.
We weren't able to finish the test, but the lions did show evidence of interacting socially, well or attempting to interact socially, with the lion in the mirror.
So it's still this area that we don't know that I'd really like to learn more about.
I think they were a little more intelligent that I was expecting going in.
Actually in the industry, I think there was this previous mindset that maybe tigers were smarter than lions or some of the other cats and lions weren't that smart.
I think in my head, when you first reached out to me, I was thinking that maybe we could prove that wrong.
I knew the lions were smart.
We know their social score is off the charts.
They don't use tools like we've seen in other species, that'd probably be pretty difficult given their paw dexterity.
Their ecological and rational are also pretty good.
They're good at innovating, solve problems, they can remember the problems once they've solved them, they can even numerically assessed the odds of winning a territorial dispute.
For the X Factor though, I never really thought of lions as super smart.
So maybe we just put them right down the middle again.
We don't want them skewed because they're so good at social and puzzles and stuff.
What do you think though?
Well, I am clearly biased.
I think their X factor should be a little bit more than down the middle.
When I started researching lions and lion cognition, a lot of people didn't even think they would be able to solve a puzzle box, maybe not even approach the puzzle box.
They have a reputation of being lazy, but like my father once told me, if you want a problem solved quickly, give it to a lazy person because they're going to find the fastest solution.
And that's how I like to view lions, even though it's probably not that scientific.
So there you have it.
Lions, they just can't wait to be king, but they're really just big old softies.
What animals do you think we should do next?
Share this video with someone who loves lions as much as Natalia and Brian and thanks for watching Animal IQ.