Vocal discrimination of African lions and its potential for collar-free tracking

Matthew Wijers, Paul Trethowan, Byron Du Preez, Simon Chamaillé-Jammes, Andrew J. Loveridge, David W. Macdonald & Andrew Markham (2021). Vocal discrimination of African lions and its potential for collar-free tracking. Bioacoustics, Volume 30 (5): 575 -593

Previous research has shown that African lions (Panthera leo) have the ability to discriminate between conspecific vocalisations, but little is known about how individual identity is conveyed in the spectral structure of roars. Using acoustic – accelerometer biologgers that allow vocalisations to be reliably associated with individual identity, we test for vocal individuality in the fundamental frequency (f0) of roars from 5 male lions, firstly by comparing simple f0 summary features and secondly by modelling the temporal pattern of the f0 contour. We then assess the application of this method for discriminating between individuals using passive acoustic monitoring. Results indicate that f0 summary features only allow for vocal discrimination with 70.7% accuracy. By comparison, vocal discrimination can be achieved with an accuracy of 91.5% based on individual differences in the temporal pattern of the f0 sequence. We further demonstrate that passively recorded lion roars can be localised and differentiated with similar accuracy. The existence of individually unique f0 contours in lion roars and their relatively lower attenuation indicates a likely mechanism enabling individual lions to identify conspecifics over long distances. These differences can be exploited by researchers to track individuals across the landscape and thereby supplement conventional lion monitoring approaches.


African lion, fundamental frequency, passive acoustic monitoring, vocal individuality, vocalisation