NAIROBI PARK DIARY

Cat communication

Roaring is not the only way they get their message across

In Summary

• As their numbers drastically reduce throughout Africa, humans need to hear them out and respond with love

Sam roaring in the forest
Sam roaring in the forest
Image: GARETH JONES

Late one afternoon, I sat quietly in the Langata forest, watching a sleeping lion in the hope he would awaken from his slumber and possibly be active in some way.

Well, about an hour later, his majesty did decide to awaken. He then stood up and gave a very powerful, awesome roar. Considering he was only metres away from me, the sound was extremely loud and the ground even seemingly vibrated.

In the park, this prime lion is known as Sam. His brother, known as Cheru, then called back nearby. They are about 14 years old. Soon, their dominant calling roar will be replaced by the stronger young lions as they take over the territory.

Of the big cats, it is lions (Panthera leo) that have the most complex communication methods due to their social nature. Lions make a variety of calls, each with a grading of volume, intensity, tempo and tone, including roars, grunts, moans, growls, snarls, meows, purrs, hums, puffs and woofs.

Lions roar for a number of reasons: advertising territorial ownership, intimidating rivals, locating pride members and strengthening social bonds. Roaring is most commonly done when the lions are most active, and as such can be heard mostly at night, especially just before dawn. 

Olfactory communication between lions is well developed. Anal sniffing is common when greeting, and males often smell females in heat to assess status. Pride males will spend a lot of time urine spraying territory boundaries onto bushes and long grass.

Lions definitely have a fairly complex form of communication that us humans continue to try and understand. As their numbers drastically reduce throughout Africa, the communication us humans need to act on is the language of love as we find ways to ensure the roar of the lions will continue throughout Africa.