Lions (Panthera leo) solve, learn, and remember a novel resource acquisition problem


The social intelligence hypothesis proposes that the challenges of complex social life bolster the evolution of intelligence, and accordingly, advanced cognition has convergently evolved in several social lineages. Lions (Panthera leo) offer an ideal model system for cognitive research in a highly social species with an egalitarian social structure. We investigated cognition in lions using a novel resource task: the suspended puzzle box. The task required lions (n = 12) to solve a novel problem, learn the techniques used to solve the problem, and remember techniques for use in future trials. The majority of lions demonstrated novel problem-solving and learning; lions (11/12) solved the task, repeated success in multiple trials, and significantly reduced the latency to success across trials. Lions also demonstrated cognitive abilities associated with memory and solved the task after up to a 7-month testing interval. We also observed limited evidence for social facilitation of the task solution. Four of five initially unsuccessful lions achieved success after being partnered with a successful lion. Overall, our results support the presence of cognition associated with novel problem-solving, learning, and memory in lions. To date, our study is only the second experimental investigation of cognition in lions and further supports expanding cognitive research to lions.

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We would like to thank Lion Country Safari for their support and funding of this project. We would also like to thank the University of Miami for funding.

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Correspondence to Natalia Borrego.

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Borrego, N., Dowling, B. Lions (Panthera leo) solve, learn, and remember a novel resource acquisition problem. Anim Cogn 19, 1019–1025 (2016) doi:10.1007/s10071-016-1009-y

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  • Animal Cognition
  • Panthera leo
  • Social intelligence hypothesis
  • Novel problem solving
  • Social facilitation