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Can two male lions mate?

Male lions, like all male mammals, have an innate drive to mate and pass on their genes. However, in nature, two male lions do not mate with each other. Male lions are exclusively attracted to and mate with female lions. While homosexuality has been observed in over 1,500 animal species, it has not been documented in lions. There are several reasons why two male lions do not mate.

Reproductive Biology of Lions

The reproductive biology of lions makes mating between two males physically impossible.

Lionesses Have the Estrous Cycle

Female lions, called lionesses, have an estrous cycle that makes them receptive to breeding. This cycle lasts about 3-4 days and occurs every 2-3 weeks. During this time, the lioness is fertile and gives off pheromones and behaviors indicating she is ready to mate. This attracts male lions who can then mate with her successfully.

Males Lack the Estrous Cycle

However, male lions do not go through the estrous cycle. They are ready to mate at any time. But without a female in heat, their attempts at mating will be unsuccessful. Two male lions mounting each other would not result in reproduction.

Male Lions Guard Their Mates

When a lioness is in heat, male lions will guard her and fend off any other males trying to access her. A coalition of 2-3 males will stick close to the receptive female and mate with her repeatedly for several days until her estrous window closes. They want to ensure they father her cubs and not another male.

Mating between the males would take time and energy away from guarding and mating with the females. So it provides no reproductive advantage. In fact, it would lower their chances of passing on genes if they allowed competitor males access to their females.

Homosexuality is Very Rare in Lions

While same-sex mounting behaviors have been observed in captive lions, true homosexuality has never been documented among wild lion populations. In the wild, survival and reproduction are the main drivers of behavior in lions and all animals. Any same-sex interactions would be accidental and not serve an evolutionary purpose.

Some reasons why homosexuality is so rare in lions:

  • Lions have a polygamous mating system where one male mates with multiple females. This gives males access to many mating opportunities with females.
  • Male lions go through puberty and start producing viable sperm at 2-3 years old. So there are no juvenile males practicing mating before they can reproduce.
  • Male lions have high levels of testosterone which drives them to mate with females, not other males.

Overall, the natural instincts and hormonal biology of lions are oriented towards heterosexual mating. Homosexual behavior likely only occurs in artificial captive settings.

Can Male Lions Physically Mate?

While biologically unlikely, can two male lions physically copulate if they attempted to? Let’s look at the mechanics.

Courtship and Mating Process


Before mating, a male lion will court a female through pre-mating rituals for several days. This involves increased scent marking, exploratory sniffing, following closely, head rubbing, licking, vocalizing, etc. The female indicates her acceptance through passive submission, allowing the male to approach without aggression.

Two males may go through similar motions of courting before attempting to mount each other. However, they lack the complementary estrous hormones and receptivity.


When ready to mate, the male lion mounts the female from behind, grasping her with his paws, and giving an initial thrust. The female responds by elevating her hindquarters and moving her tail aside. This helps alignment for the male to intromit and ejaculate.

Two males could physically attempt this mounting position. However, without the female overtures and estrogen-primed genitalia, successful intromission is very unlikely.

Examples of Male-Male Mounting

While extremely rare in the wild, there are a few anecdotal reports of male lions mounting each other in captivity. However, this appears to be situational and not evidence of true homosexuality in the species.

Case Study 1: Zoo Lions

In 2006, two male lions housed together at the Shanghai Wild Animal Park in China were observed mounting each other repeatedly. However, the zoo handlers interpreted it as a show of dominance, not romance. There were no females in heat present to activate the males’ sex drive. So they redirected their energy towards each other aggressively. After the females underwent estrous cycles, both males mated heterosexually again.

Case Study 2: Group Housed Lions

At the Johannesburg Lion Park in South Africa, a pride of 5 males and 4 females are housed together. In this artificial scenario, where males outnumber females, some male-male mounting has occurred. Researchers believe it results from the males’ frustration around mate competition and lack of regular access to females in estrus. They resume normal mating when breeding opportunities with females are provided.


In summary, homosexuality does not naturally occur in lions. The physiology, hormones, instincts and evolutionary drivers make male lions interested exclusively in mating with females. While same-sex mounting between males may happen in exceptional artificial settings, it does not indicate genuine homosexual orientation or bonding in lions. In nature, reproduction is the ultimate result of mating behaviors. Two male lions are neither hormonally primed, morphologically compatible, nor instinctually driven to mate with each other and cannot produce offspring together.