Snarling King. Ok you got me, that’s not a snarl!

Snarling King.  Ok you got me, that’s not a snarl!

Many people see a photo like this and assume the lion is snarling, roaring or somehow angry or annoyed.  The truth is that most of the time, like in this case, this expression is actually the grimace associated with what is known as the Flehmen Response.  Some animals have a special organ in their mouth, called the Jacobson’s Organ allowing them to process smells.  They curl back their lips, inhale through the mouth and pause for several moments while transferring the scents and pheromones to the Jacobson’s Organ.  Their brain then interprets the smells.  In this case Romeo 2, as this Olare Motorogi/Masai Mara resident is known, was analysing female lion urine.  Other animals that also exhibit this behaviour are buffalos, giraffes, zebras, tapirs, goats, rhinos and giant pandas – amongst others.  Even our domestic cats do this.

Smell is a very important communication method for animals – they can glean a lot of information by just smelling their surroundings: through scents they can determine whether an area is someone’s territory, whether someone has recently passed through, whether females are in oestrus, whether there is food nearby etc.   Flehming is just one of the ways some animals use to interpret particular scents.  Let’s just say their Facebook is actually a “SmellBook” and their selfies and “likes” are replaced by … oh let’s not really go there :-)

Techs:  Canon 5D Mark III | Canon EF 200-400 f4 with 1.4 Extender @400mm | f4 | 1/500s | ISO 4000