Journal of Ethology

, Volume 34, Issue 3, pp 277–290 | Cite as

Exploring African lion (Panthera leo) behavioural phenotypes: individual differences and correlations between sociality, boldness and behaviour

  • Emma J. Dunston
  • Jackie Abell
  • Rebecca E. Doyle
  • Megan Evershed
  • Rafael Freire


Increasing our understanding of personality, at an individual and group level, is crucial to the pre-release assessment of social species within ex situ reintroduction programs. We conducted the first exploration into the personality of a captive-origin pride of African lions (Panthera leo), assessing behavioural variations and consistencies in daily activity, social and hunting behaviour, and boldness. Data were collected via direct observations, while a species-specific protocol for testing boldness, using playbacks, was developed. Differences in sex, age and session time for the activity budget were evaluated using Pearson correlations and repeated-measures ANOVA, while social interactions were analysed using social network analysis. Spearman’s correlations were conducted to assess for associations between boldness scores, activity and sociality. The two boldness tests provided a range of scores per lion, indicating that the test was effective. Correlations and variations in individual behaviour indicated that adults and sub-adults have specific roles within pride behaviour. Correlations between boldness and activity and social behaviours provided information on the role of individuals, allowing investigation into the behaviour of a dominant and a social keystone. Our study indicates that evaluating various aspects of behaviour in conjunction with boldness has the potential to assist the pre-release assessment of a pride within an ex situ reintroduction program.


Personality Pre-release assessment Reintroduction Social network analysis 



This research was conducted as part of E. Dunston’s Doctorate of Philosophy, Science at Charles Sturt University, Australia. This research was funded by an Australian postgraduate award, provided through Charles Sturt University. The authors wish to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions. The authors also wish to acknowledge the facilitated researcher and staff of the African Lion Environmental and Research Trust and Antelope Park, Zimbabwe, for their dedication and assistance during data collection.

Compliance with ethical standards


This study was funded by an Australian postgraduate award (APA), provided through Charles Sturt University, awarded in 2013. An APA does not have a grant number.

Conflict of interest

E. Dunston, J. Abell, R. Doyle, M. Evershed and R. Freire declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical statement

All applicable international, national, and institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all participants in the study.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 19 kb)
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Supplementary material 2 (DOCX 16 kb)
10164_2016_473_MOESM3_ESM.docx (18 kb)
Supplementary material 3 (DOCX 17 kb)
10164_2016_473_MOESM4_ESM.docx (17 kb)
Supplementary material 4 (DOCX 16 kb)


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Copyright information

© Japan Ethological Society and Springer Japan 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Emma J. Dunston
    • 1
    • 6
  • Jackie Abell
    • 2
    • 3
  • Rebecca E. Doyle
    • 4
  • Megan Evershed
    • 5
  • Rafael Freire
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Animal and Veterinary SciencesCharles Sturt UniversityWagga WaggaAustralia
  2. 2.Psychology, Behaviour and Achievement Research CentreCoventry UniversityWest MidlandsUK
  3. 3.African Lion and Environmental Research TrustLivingstoneZambia
  4. 4.Animal Welfare Science CentreThe University of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia
  5. 5.African Lion and Environmental Research TrustGweruZimbabwe
  6. 6.LeppingtonAustralia

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