Malelane is a long way from Pafuri. Approximately 350km in fact. And I imagine that many readers of this post may not have heard of either place. Pafuri is right at the northern tip of the Kruger National Park, and Malelane is at the opposite end, way down south. Yet it struck me recently that what a lion does in the one location might well influence what another does in the second. Especially when it comes to roaring.
Male lions are fairly vocal creatures. Their roars serve a pivotal communication function when contacting their coalition or prides, or when advertising territory. It is a well recounted fact that on a still night you can hear a male lion from 8 kilometres away. I have personally been sitting with a male when we knew his coalition were 10 kilometres away (other rangers were with them at the time), and we could still hear the rumbles of their distant roars on the chill morning air. Impressive, to say the least.
When one male lion roars, it is not uncommon to hear a male in a neighbouring territory answer back. It’s not always a deliberately antagonistic act, it’s merely their way of saying, “You stay on your side and I’ll stay on mine.”
What I’m getting at here is that when one lion starts roaring, for whatever reason – and I think there might be a lot more subtle information conveyed in the roars than we are aware of – he may well start the next lion in the territorial chain roaring, and so on and so on, down the length of the Kruger Park or whatever conservation area they happen to be in, and the whole lion population might be in song during the night.
On some evenings the lions are quiet, yet on others they are roaring from all points of the compass, and I’m speculating here that a lot of the roaring may simply be reactionary, rather than initiated. I.e. it’s an instinctive response to hearing another lion calling.
Let’s crunch the numbers on this one…
Lions have far better hearing than we do, so let’s take 10km as the standard distance at which one lion can hear another (actually, ten is a nice easy number to work with and my maths isn’t very good).
Sound travels at 343m/s, so it travels 10km in about 30 seconds.
Assuming a neighbouring male hears the call, he might take five or ten seconds (let’s go with 10 again) to listen, work out who is calling and then start to respond. Male lions generally have a few warm-up roars before they are at full volume, so let’s say from initial time of roaring to maximum is another 10 seconds. That means from one lion roaring to the next one responding, and that roar reaching the next lion, is about 80 seconds (30 for first roar to travel, 20 for hearing and subsequent response, and 30 for that roar to reach the next lion). We’re basically looking at about 50 seconds of time between each lion.
If a male right up at the northern tip of Kruger starts to bellow, and assuming the lions in the Kruger Park are evenly spaced at 10km intervals (of course this is hypothetical), he could have the dominant male right the way down in Malelane roaring in 1750 seconds, which is just under half an hour!
At Londolozi we’re a little way north of Malelane, about 270km from Pafuri, so we (and the Birmingham males) would be hit by this roaring ripple (sounds like an oxymoron, I know) in 22 minutes and 30 seconds. Wow!
Yes, these are the random things I think of when out in the bush.
Imagine what it was like 500 years ago, when lions covered the continent! A lion roaring in Cairo could get his counterpart in Cape Town calling in just under 10 hours! 10 hours! The length of the African continent!!!
Boggles the mind…