In celebration of Women’s Month in South Africa, we decided to look at some of the animal groups at Safari Lodge that are powered by females.
Matriarchal family structures are more common in the animal kingdom than you might think, and it’s no different in the African bush. From elephants, to lions, to the tiniest ants, girl power is alive and well!
1. The Elephant Matriarch
When you come across an elephant herd during a game drive, it’s amazing to think that the group is most likely led by an older female matriarch.
This female is one of the older females in the groups, and she is responsible for keeping the young elephants safe, for disciplining the teenage males, for deciding where the herd moves for best feeding, and for producing many of the offspring.
A typical elephant family usually comprises of 6 to 12 individual elephants, but can expand to a larger group of 20. These females will assist each other with the birth and care of their young. This “babysitting” is a very important part of the young elephant’s development as it prepares her for when she is a first-time mother.
When the matriarch dies, she is replaced by one of her daughters (usually the oldest). This is why it’s very important that the younger females grow up in a strong and protected environment.
2. Female lions
Lionesses are the ones bringing home the bacon.
While the dominant male lions in the pride are usually out patrolling their territory and fighting off competing males, it’s the females in the pride who keep things together by doing the majority of the hunting. The females are sleek, fast and powerful, and use remarkable teamwork and strategies to bring down their prey.
The females are the ones providing the food, and occasionally, they won’t even share their bounty with the males. Males lions are generally bigger, bulkier and less able to stalk prey, so they rely on the rest of the lions for hunting. It’s safe to say that if the females were not around, the males would probably struggle to survive!
3. Female honey bees
The honey bee caste system is extremely matriarchal!
When you drive past a Marula tree in the bush and a swarm of bees floats out of their hive, it’s interesting to think that most of those bees are female. The queen and the worker bees are all female, and the hive is very female-centric, as the queen is chosen and raised by the worker bees. The males only exist for sexual reproduction purposes, and once they’ve mated with the queen they die. The kicker? Male bees are actually referred to as “drones.”
5. Spotted Hyenas
You know those big, bulky hyenas that loap through the bush late at night looking for a carcass to feed on? They are most-likely female!
Female spotted hyenas are larger and more aggressive than males, and it’s the females that dominate their social groups (each of which may have up to 60 members). The female hyena’s genitals even resemble the male genitals, making it difficult to differentiate between the sexes.
Meerkats live in mobs!
Yes, that’s right. These highly social animals live in underground burrows and groups of two or three families, called mobs.
Each mob is lead by a dominant female, which leads the group in foraging trips, finding new burrows, and settling disputes with other meerkat mobs.
Similar to bees, ants live in colonies lead by a single queen, who focuses on mating and breeding to build the colony while the others tend to the work.
If population size is a measure of success, then ants are the most successful creatures on the planet. If all of the ants in the world came together in one big mass, they would weigh more than the combined weight of the entire human population on Earth.
So, next time you are driving through the bush searching for animals, spare a thought for the amazing role of females in the structure of life in the bush. They’re not just there to bear young, but hold essential leadership roles that define the success and failure of family groups – and the species!