Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Lion Identification (Part 1 - Whisker Spots)

I love the process of lion identification and the various elements that factor into positively ID'ing one particular lion. I normally use whisker spot identification, but sometimes that can get tricky if the lion is at an angle where you cannot see the whisker spots well or the lion is just too far away to clearly make them out. When that happens, you have to rely on other ways which may include notches in one or both ears, facial or body scars, mane coloration or growth pattern, injuries or unusual characteristics of the tail and other physical characteristics but some of those can change over time. I've developed a system by using letters to identify the whisker spot rows and then numbers to identify the whisker spots themselves. L identifies the lion's left side and R his right. For example, the top row of whisker spots is Row A. The second row down is Row B, etc. The spots are numbered left to right (or, beginning at the end closest to the lion's nose).

For entry in a field journal, an example of one lion's whisker spot pattern would be as follows:


Here's an example - this is Tsavo.

Look closely at the whisker spots on the lion's exposed side (his left). You can see a pattern of 2 spots on the top row (Row A), then if you move down to the second row (Row B) you can see 3 spots, then 4 spots. So I can recognize Tsavo by his 2, 3-4 whisker spot pattern.

Let's zoom in on Tsavo's face so we can see the whisker spots closer.

 See the 2 whisker spots on the 1st row?
The rows are counted from the top down, so these spots are on Row A.

 Now you can move to the 2nd row down (Row B),
where you can see a pattern of 3 spots.

And then you can see the 4 spots on the
second row down (Row B)

 The identification for Row B would be "2-3" since there's
2 spots, a bare spot, then 3 spots.

Tsavo's whisker pattern on the left side of his face would be identified in this way in a field journal:


This is how whisker spot identification works, and it works very well because one lion's whisker spot pattern is unlike any other lion's and it remains the same throughout his or her life.

In my next post I'll illustrate some of the other lion identification methods, such as exaggerated (large) whisker spots, spots on the nose, etc.

Animals Matter.

1 comment:

  1. I had no idea about whisker spot identification. I know leopards have distinctive spot patterns but I'm embarrased to say that lions have all looked the same to me. However I will now look at them in a different light.