We can say as many times as is necessary that all animals' prime instinct is to survive and reproduce. This includes the humans, although in humans we seek more elaborate methods to reach the same goal in style. To survive, we look for ways to eat better, in order to live longer.
We work hard and smart in order to live happily. We modify our courtship methods each generation to make it easier and more enjoyable to make children and maintain the species. But top priority falls on reproduction. To most people, no woman is complete without a husband and a child or children. No man is worth the name if he has no family. In extreme cases, an adult would rather have a child at the least if getting a mate becomes a Herculean task. All in all, it boils to one thing. A need to procreate and pass on the gene.
During game drives in the bush, a keen observer will notice that the subject of procreation creates an immediate interest to most tourists more than any other subject. At one point, I was doing game drive during the high season when the plains of the Mara are full of wildebeests.
The sheer number of wildebeests was in itself an interesting phenomenon, and we had to stop many times for the tourists to document the migrating animals. When they come from the Serengeti plains, they are followed by the predators who include the lions, and cheetahs who have their home range at the northern part of Serengeti bordering Masai Mara. So we had seen quite a number of lions – some hunting and some eating. It was not a priority to look for lions.
In the midst of the group of wildebeests, there was a commotion and the animals were running round each other. On checking with the binoculars, I saw what the fuss was all about. Some males were fighting each other. As soon as one found an opportunity, he would try to mount a female in the group. But before he could do it, another male would interfere and the fight would resume. I thought the scene was too far and unimportant to the tourists.
But after explaining what was happening, there was an overwhelming interest from all of them, to drive to the scene of action and wait until we see who wins and successfully mounts the female. When we got closer, I could see from the faces of the tourists – young and old – a different kind of fascination from what I had seen when we encountered the largest group of the wildebeests.
One of the striking aspects of act of copulation among animals is that the time involved varies considerably. The bush baby will spend more than two hours in the act.
The rhinos and the warthogs will be at it for almost half an hour. But the gazelles and their cousins the wildebeests can achieve their end in a matter of seconds. And all that, while walking or eating. Frequency too is different from species to species. Some will copulate once a year, while others such as lions have been observed to mate at an average interval of 20 minutes. For lions, this may go on throughout the day for seven days non stop. The record-breaking lion observed in a pride was able to achieve a Herculean score of 86 matings in a single day!
There is even more variety in the nature of the physical act itself. In some animal species, the males try to ensure the females’ total cooperation by immobilising her. When the lions are mating, the male follows the female everywhere she goes and tries to persuade her to sit. But when she does sit, the male sits beside her and makes sure the escape route is sealed. Funny enough, he does not go ahead and mount her. He waits for her to make the move.
When she does, he moves on top of her in a back-to-back position and begins the average 12 seconds mating. During that time, he will put his front weight on her and clasp her front legs with his paws. He will then bite her spine near the neck or the ears. It is not an injurious bite or clasp but it gives the female a very little chance of escape or sudden movement while the copulation is going on.
To be continued.