Meet the Amazing Lioness Who’ll Make You Believe She’s a Male

On Chief’s Island in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, a special lioness has captured the attention of big cat lovers and scientists alike. Her name is Mmamoriri and she’s something of a local legend.

Despite being female, Mmamoriri sports a full, dark mane. She’s more muscular than most lionesses and when she roars, the sound is louder and deeper than a typical lioness. Unless you take a close look, you’d swear she’s a male lion. Locals dubbed her Mmamoriri, which means the “Hairy Princess.”

While some have offered the opinion that Mmamoriri “evolved” her masculine characteristics in order to ward off danger, the truth is less dramatic. Genetic testing shows that Mmamoriri is in fact female.

She may look and sound like a male, but we now know that’s not because of any errant chromosomal shenanigans. Scientists who have examined her say Mmamoriri’s genitalia is fully female and there’s no evidence of any male organs. Mmamoriri simply was born that way.

Ph.D. candidate Simon Dures told Africa Geographic that Mmamoriri’s physical characteristics are probably the result of exposure while in the womb to an excess of androgens. Androgens are hormones which stimulate the development of male characteristics — particularly primary and secondary sex characteristics. This phenomenon is well-documented in humans, but is less common in animals.

Dr. Luke Hunter, president and chief conservation officer of big cat conservation organization Panthera, offered a similar explanation to National Geographic.

See a video of Mmamoriri and her pride below. Mmamoriri is on the right:

Mmamoriri, now 11-years-old, is not the first maned lioness to attract attention in this relatively isolated area of Botswana. Another maned lioness named Martina gained fame in the same area a number of years ago. She hasn’t been seen since 2002. Surprisingly, there may be as many as five other maned lionesses in this area.

The BBC recently profiled Mmamoriri in its TV special “World’s Sneakiest Animals.” If you missed it, catch the episode featuring her at this link. Her story begins around the 42-minute mark.

By all accounts, Mmamoriri’s pride treats her no differently than other members of the group. Her role is somewhat different than it might normally be, though. While she socializes with other females, Mmamoriri also takes on the typically male role of pride protector when other lions challenge the pride’s territory or when predators pose a threat.

Mmamoriri, being bigger and stronger than the other lionesses, is better able to bring down prey and defend it after the kill. Her mane, size and aggression combine to fool outsiders into thinking she’s a male.

Mmamorini during a quiet moment.  Photo credit: You Tube/HappyGoLucky

Mmamorini during a quiet moment. Photo credit: You Tube/HappyGoLucky

This incredible lioness is not ostracized by her pride for her unusual differences. Rather, those differences help the group survive. If only humans could be as accepting of other humans who are “different” in similarly unique ways.

We “learn” as kids to “act like” a boy or a girl. In nature, however, animals don’t deal with that silly pigeonholed way of thinking. If an animal is born with an opposite-sex trait that helps survival, it’s a gift, not a reason for scorn. Mmamoriri’s story shows us that it’s not a bad thing to exhibit traits associated with the opposite gender. It’s just another way to be.

Males can act like females and vice versa. There is no problem; there should be no judgments. We ought to take a cue from these animals and be more accepting of the “gender fluid” among us.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

280 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Cabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jane R.
Jane Rabout a year ago

Beautiful lion. Videos not working. I'd have loved to see them.

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Effra W.
Effra W1 years ago

Beautiful. Stay safe.

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stewart parks
stewart p1 years ago

Since the word is out, I certainly hope the lioness will be guarded. Trophy hunters have very low self-esteem. They will feel falsely empowered to kill this beautiful animal just for a quick fix of adrenaline.

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Dianne D.
Dianne D1 years ago

She is beautiful but wonder if she won't be mistaken for a male and hunted.

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Julia Cabrera-Woscek

Very interesting!

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Henriette Matthijssen

They are all fortunate to have her amongst them! She is beautiful as she is!

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Tony Lyons
Away L1 years ago

What a strong character! She should be a roaring success...

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Janine V.
Janine V1 years ago

Love this..."animals don't deal with that silly way of pigeonholed thinking." Exactly! Thank you Susan.

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Ake Lindberg
Ake L1 years ago

Nice!

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