In times of hunger, cannibalism is wrong


In contrast to human cannibalism, which is mainly restricted to eating by adults, it is also more common in certain animal species that older animals become child murderers. Lack of food and overpopulation are also important reasons for cannibalism here.

Social derailment

If, for example, more young animals are born in mice than can be fed during reproduction, severe social derailments occur. The mothers, who initially looked after their little ones with loving care, then usually no longer show any inhibitions about mercilessly devouring the “excess” offspring.

The saying “I like you to eat” is filled with meaning here in a very brutal way. This reduction in the effort involved in brood care in times of hunger, however, has the advantage that the remaining young can grow up without any problems and so their own genes are spread despite the crisis situation.

Young lions commit massacres

Amazingly, the king of animals, the lion, has achieved particular fame in child murder. Scientists have found that the sequence of these massacres, which can be observed regularly, has to be imagined as follows: Adventurous, roaming "bachelorette gangs" first attack an existing pack and kill the former rulers in cold blood. Sometimes cannibalistic acts already occur when the defeated lion is eaten up by the attackers.

A little later, however, the grueling game really starts. Instead of being happy about the conquest of the females, “the new rulers” first set out to look for the young of the pack. Nest by nest is tracked down and plundered. Almost without exception, the babies end up in the throat or stomach of the males. In this act, which from our point of view seems barbaric, the lords of creation show astonishing perseverance. The males roam the pack territory for days, always looking for new hiding spots.

As is so often the case with this phenomenon, the extent of this cannibalism among lions is directly related to the population density. The whole thing can be summarized in a simple formula: If there is an overpopulation, there are numerous bachelor gangs and thus many attacks on existing packs. The result: regicides and child murders are increasing. But this also reduces the population pressure and there are fewer bachelors gangs ...

Lionesses ensnare new rulers

Are there other reasons for this amazing lion behavior? And why don't the females defend their children with claws and teeth? For a long time it was assumed in ethological circles that child murder was caused by making the females ready to mate again as quickly as possible and receptive to the spread of the genes of the new “paschas”.

In truth, however, as we know today, the background to child murder is much more complicated. The females do defend their young during these killing orgies, only they apparently choose a path other than open confrontation in order to save what can still be saved. The lionesses actually ensnare the new rulers and try to distract them from their nests. The females then use unobserved moments to bring the offspring to safety from endangered areas.

Perfume sedates males

During this phase, behavioral researchers have found, the queens of the steppe produce a special fragrance that over time sedates the aggressive males and makes the young peaceful. If the new rulers are sufficiently infatuated, there is no longer any danger for the young animals. The aphrodisiac worked, the ruse was successful.

But the biggest advantage of these war games among conspecifics: conquerors and conquered have come together and are ready to raise the remaining offspring together. The blood toll for this new pack harmony, however, is high. The death of the numerous young lions is apparently acknowledged approvingly by everyone involved ...

Even crocodiles and alligators have no regard for their closest relatives when it comes to eating. If the eggs and the newly hatched young are initially guarded against potential enemies by the mother with enthusiasm and all available means, things will look completely different some time later. If the crocodile mom meets her teenagers again after several months in the wild, the young animals occasionally have to get to safety in a flash in order not to disappear into the throat of the producer.

Status: April 14, 2001