In South Africa, lions are protected in national parks and smaller fenced reserves. Translocating lions between fenced reserves, whilst necessary to maintain genetic diversity, is disruptive and can impact survivorship and pride cohesion. Critical to translocation success is pride cohesion. White lions are a natural colour variant occurring in the Greater Kruger Park Region, where anthropogenic threats eliminated this population until reintroduction in 2006. Through social network analysis (SNA), the sociality of a released pride of captive-origin white and wild tawny lions was compared to two captive-origin and wild prides of tawny lions. Social interactions and pride dynamics were recorded for each pride. For all prides, cubs and subadults were central to the play network, while adults received the most social interactions. White and wild tawny adult males initiated more social interactions than captive-origin tawny males, whilst a keystone adult female was identified in each pride. For the constructed pride, social interactions were more evenly distributed, suggesting a high level of connectedness and cohesion. This is the first study to demonstrate that captive-origin white and wild tawny lions can form a socially functional pride, suggesting that white lions would survive in the wild in the absence of anthropogenic threats.
Keywords: African lion; Panthera leo melanochaita; behaviour; conservation; social interactions; translocation; white lion.