I say this after watching the Styx pride blow a buffalo hunt that could have landed them a meal for days. To be fair, the buffalo was massive, and had three other big bulls backing him up. And, granted, the lions were being pressured by a big rhino bull at the time (yes, it was quite a sighting!). But I couldn’t help thinking that had they just hung on for another hour, concealed somewhere close by, it would have ended up pitch dark and the pride could have come at the buffalo from different directions, effectively hemming him in, and they would have had a much higher chance of success.
Anyway, no use dwelling on the past, which I guess is the crux of the matter for lions. Well, not the past, but the ability to imagine something other than the here and now. More specifically, the future.
Lions and other predators – and in fact most of nature – live very much in the present. Stimulus-response. Although a slightly more developed cranial capacity might endow the ability to learn on certain animals, for the most part nature operates very much in response to environmental cues.
The book Sapiens talks about imagination being one of the key developments in human evolution; the ability to perceive things other than ourselves, or at least ourselves in other scenarios (that’s the short version). Lion’s lack that ability (we can debate this another day).
Self-control is basically the ability to stop yourself doing things that you might want to do but that might not be in your best interest, so I guess lion’s do possess it to varying degrees, but the ‘not being in their best interest’ part would most likely only be relevant to the dangers of a hunt. Yes a single lioness might want to take on 100 buffalo that would provide her with a meal, but it certainly wouldn’t be in her best interest. Then again, looking at it in a different way, she might actually not want to. The danger factor would override the “want” part of it.
So really the self-control I’m referring to in these tawny cats is the ability to not hunt now just because an opportunity presents itself, but wait a little bit longer until conditions are more advantageous.
And I don’t think they do have that ability, but nor do I think it’s a bad thing.
I was reading a novel by C.S. Forester recently, and in it he refers to the old Nelsonian tradition of “losing not a minute”, which in the old Royal Navy days of sail power was crucial; the wind might swing, sea conditions could change drastically, and plans might be thwarted simply because of a delay in getting going.
I think something similar applies in nature and in particular to this discussion about lions, in that although the future may present a better hunting opportunity, it also may not. Things might change for the worse. Another pride might roll in; the buffalo might catch your scent; you might get hammered by a hailstorm…
If there’s a chance now, take it, and don’t worry about what could have been. And lions do just that.
Seems like they’ve got it dialled in after all…