There is a small pride of lions at Mombo Camp in the Okavango called the Western Pride. One particular female within this pride – known by the locals as Mmamoriri – is very special. She has a dark, full mane, making her appear to be a male!
Mombo Camp is situated on the north-western tip of Chiefs Island in the Okavango Delta. Due to the isolation of this area, surrounded on three sides by the permanent swamp, some strange anomalies crop up in the environment.
During the late 1990s, a lioness by the name of Martina was a regular feature on the landscape. She also sported a beautiful, blonde mane – so the current lioness is widely considered to be a descendant this individual. It is unlikely that animals with this condition are able to breed, however, so other genetic factors must be at play here in order for this to occur.
How this aberration comes about is unclear, but Dr. Luke Hunter of Panthera feels that this condition most likely originates either at conception or during fetal development in the womb, resulting in a female offspring having certain male characteristics, or vice-versa.
For Mmamoriri, her condition is a double-edged sword. Her appearance as a male gives her the intimidatory edge in conflicts against other lionesses and hyaena, but when another male appears, she is targeted as a competitor.
She has recently been observed by the guides at Mombo behaving in an altogether ‘male’ fashion – attempting to mount one of the females in her pride. Shortly after this, her pride was involved in a battle over a buffalo carcass with another larger pride, the Mporota lions. Mmamoriri held ten other lionesses at bay for four hours with pure aggression and bravado- a situation that only changed with the arrival of the two Jao Boys, the males who dominate the Mporota pride. Once they were there, they immediately attacked her as a male usurper and she was forced to retreat.
I’ll be keeping you updated on Mmamoriri’s progress, as she adapts to her unique life here in the Delta.