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'Lion King'? Should Be More Like Lion Queen, Wildlife Expert Says

Who run the pride? LIONESSES.

The Lion King live-action remake is bringing plenty of wildlife realism to the classic animated Disney film. For some fans, it’s even been a little too authentic; turns out cartoon warthogs are far cuter than the real deal. Sorry, Pumba!

But the animal stars won’t be mimicking their real-life counterparts in every aspect — particularly when it comes to who the actual ruler of the pride lands is.

Be prepared for a Scar-level declaration: in real life, Simba isn’t fit for the throne. His dad Mufasa ain’t either. Rather, it’s Simba’s mother, Sarabi, who would be the boss.

A promotional poster of Alfre Woodard. She plays the role of Simba's mom, Sarabi.
A promotional poster of Alfre Woodard. She plays the role of Simba's mom, Sarabi.

That’s right, the king of the jungle is a fraud. All hail the queen of the savannah!

We can thank zoologist Craig Packer for this revelation. The world’s top lion expert told journalist Erin Biba at National Geographic that, unlike what we see in fiction, females run everything in their packs.

Lions are the only feline species that live in groups, known as prides. Like baboons and elephants, lions are matriarchal: females hunt, guard their territory, and stay with the pride for the rest of their lives.

Male lions are notorious for not contributing much to their prides. 
Male lions are notorious for not contributing much to their prides. 

Even Simba’s solo teenage journey isn’t a faithful portrayal. Male lions don’t stay with the prides they’re born into much less return to them — because they can’t procreate with their female relatives. Yes, this implies “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” would be a no-go for Simba and Nala.

Instead, they become nomadic and travel with other male lions to find new prides. As Packer put it in a previous CBC interview, they’re known as “useless layabouts,” but serve an important role as bodyguards against other male lions.

So if we looked at “The Lion King” through a zoologist’s eyes, the oft-forgotten Sarabi would lead the pride. And as the journalist who interviewed Packer posits, Nala would be her successor, not Simba. Sarabi would later carve out nearby territory for Nala to lead her own pride.

What a twist! If the remake wants to give Alfre Woodard, who voices Sarabi, a bigger role, she’d be well-deserving. The legendary actress is already a queen in her own right: she’s previously directed a school play adaption of “The Lion King” with art students in New Orleans.

And if that means Beyoncé, who plays Nala, later inherits everything? Then the world is exactly as it should be.

This fun fact is one the late Jamaican actress Madge Sinclair, who voiced the original Sarabi (and plays royalty in the 1988 classic film, “Coming to America”), would have probably taken great pride in.

All this doesn’t discredit that eventually, the Disney franchise did do right by lionesses. The original Lion King’s sequel has a female lion named Zira who leads the pride (albeit by a technicality) previously ruled by Scar.

Kovu is hot: confirmed by science

Another thing the National Geographic story has shed light on: the Internet’s thirst for a cartoon lion is valid.

In the animated Lion King sequel, Simba’s daughter Kiara falls in love with the exiled bad boy, Kovu. As did many viewers. Like, many.

This crush is something female lions would probably share too. Darker manes are more attractive to them, Packer confirmed. As explained in a 2002 study he advised on, the dark colour equals more testosterone. That suggests more physical strength, an attractive feature in a mate looking to protect her young. In fact, it can be said that the only reason male lions have manes is to please the ladies.

“If it wasn’t for the females, there would be no reason for the males to have manes,” Packer told National Geographic. “Females prefer the male who is the most conspicuous and has the clear characteristics they can rely on to ensure their babies are going to survive and be healthy.”

Sexism in the (cartoon) animal kingdom

A side-effect of the debunking has unfortunately impacted Erin Biba, who wrote the article. Biba was bombarded by men on Twitter who disagreed with science and attempted to “educate” her on lions. Interviewing the world’s leading expert who was essential to medical breakthroughs for lions isn’t enough for some people, it seems.

Telling off a woman science journalist for doing her job? Now that’s a take as bad as the theory Mufasa controls the weather.

On the bright side, her story also led to reflection on other animated films where gender roles in the animal kingdom were warped for good old-fashioned patriarchal standards.

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