Disney’s 1994 movie The Lion King is a cherished childhood film for many. However, not everything about lions and hyenas in that movie is completely accurate! We know it’s just a movie, but we thought it would be fun to talk about some of these inaccuracies and clear up those misconceptions.
In the movie, Mufasa, king of the pride, has a red mane. His evil brother, Scar, has a black mane. In the wild, the darker maned lion is the more dominant! They have higher testosterone, tend to feed better, and seem to be more attractive to lionesses. Scar would have actually been the true king of Pride Rock with a mane that dark.
Lion prides are typically made up of 2-3 male lions and 6 or more related female lions. The 2-3 male lions in a pride are not related to any of the females. Brothers Mufasa and Scar would have formed what is known as a coalition – anywhere from 2 to up to 7 related male lions that roam nomadically until they can take over a pride. They would both work to protect the lionesses, cubs, and territory. Scar would not have been outcast, or if he was, Mufasa would have had a hard time staying in charge of this pride.
Lions, like all cats, are promiscuous breeders. Typically, when male lions take over a pride, they will breed with all of the lionesses at a similar time. Lionesses will then have all of their cubs at a similar time. There should have been way more than two cubs in Mufasa’s pride at the time of Simba and Nala’s birth. Mufasa and Scar would have bred with all of the available lionesses to create as many of their own offspring as they could.
When Scar took over the pride, he would have killed all the cubs that weren’t his. Lions are well known for practicing infanticide. Any time there is a transition in power, all cubs are killed to send the lionesses back into heat and give the new male lions the opportunity to breed with the lionesses. This ensures that all the cubs are their own offspring and their genes are being passed on. When Scar took over the pride, he would have killed Nala.
Lion prides don’t have a hierarchy in the way the movie suggests. There is no “king and queen” of a pride. While male lions may be dominant over lionesses, they don’t have a chosen mate that is more important than any of the rest of the females. In fact, males come and go in the pride, but lionesses will stay in a pride for their entire life. They live with their grandmothers, mothers, sisters, aunts, and cousins. Along with a lack of king and queen, a pride also doesn’t have a prince. Male lions are run out of the pride by their mothers when they’re about 2-3 years old. This is about the time they would form a coalition with their male siblings. Simba would not have taken over Mufasa’s pride. Although Simba does leave the pride after Mufasa’s death, he would not have come back to the same pride.
Simba talks a lot about practicing his roar and Mufasa uses his roar to scare off hyenas. But did you know that the roars in the movie aren’t actual lions? They actually used tiger roars when recording for the film because lion calls aren’t as powerful as they wanted. A lion’s roar is called a carol and it can be heard up to 5 miles away. They use this call to mark their territory, as well as communicate with each other in the wild. It’s not nearly as intimidating as the movie makes it sound.
Simba swims in the watering hole in Timon and Pumbaa’s paradise. When Nala discovers him, he pulls her into the water with him and she is not a fan! That’s more accurate to a lion’s reaction to water. Lions don’t like being in water or swimming. Since they live in Africa, they don’t have much access to lion sized pools, and water is a valuable resource. Here at TCWR, we give our tigers pools in the summer, but our lions prefer to find a nice shady spot to hang out.
Hyenas in general aren’t very noisy creatures, with the exception of Spotted Hyenas. Spotted hyenas, presumably the type in the movie, can make up to 14 different sounds. Laughing is one of those sounds, and probably the most famous. However, did you know that spotted hyenas only laugh when they’re anxious or nervous? It’s generally not a good sound; it may mean the hyena is in trouble. The hyenas in the movie would more likely whoop to communicate. This call can be heard up to 3 miles away and is unique for every hyena.
Hyenas and lions wouldn’t work together in the wild. They’re actually enemies! Hyenas do much more hunting than lions – they kill up to 90% of their diet. On the other hand, lions are scavengers, stealing more dead prey than killing their own prey. A group of lions can and will chase hyenas off their kills and steal them for the pride. Similarly, a large group of hyenas can and will chase off lionesses and steal their prey. So hyenas wouldn’t rely on a lion to feed their clan, they can actually do better on their own.
Along those lines, a single lion, even a healthy adult male, could probably be overwhelmed and seriously injured or killed by several hyenas. It is more than likely that the three hyenas in The Lion King would have killed Simba when they had him cornered in the elephant graveyard. They could have also potentially killed Mufasa.
The movie implies that the hyenas’ presence in Pride Rock destroys the environment. As a top predator, hyenas are actually very important for maintaining the balance of the ecosystem. Along with lions, they control the populations of grazers, and therefore the growth of grass and brush. Without these powerful predators, grazers would overconsume grass and brush and leave the land barren. This is more likely to cause an ecological imbalance, not hyenas.