I recently got back from a three-week safari in Africa. It was magical. The beauty of the landscape, the warmth of the people, and the badassery of the animals could not be denied. I came home immediately craving a return trip.
I also came home with the realization that females are incredible no matter where they live. In Uganda, I watched village women carrying babies on their chests while they did backbreaking work in the fields to bring in food for themselves and the rest of their families. In Botswana, I witness local women taking out a mokoro (African canoe), to go fishing for their family while also taking care of many other chores. And I witnessed countless examples of female animals ruling the wild.
In fact, many of the most astonishing animals I witnessed on my trip were females taking charge and showing the world that matriarchal societies work well.
Elephants are a deeply matriarchal society. A matriarch, typically the oldest and largest female in the family, leads each herd of eight to one hundred individuals, and she is in charge of everything. Every major decision such as where to eat, sleep, and roam is made by the matriarch, and woe to anyone who denies her right to lead. The matriarch is also responsible for teaching all of her daughters and granddaughters how to survive and care for their young. These females will remain together their entire lives with the matriarch guiding the family through every step of their journey.
If that’s not impressive enough, a female elephant is also pregnant for nearly two years—22 months.
The lion shouldn’t be called the king of the jungle; it should be the queen. Lions are another matriarchal society with lionesses working together to hunt and care for their cubs. In a pride, the females are responsible for the hunting 90 percent of the time, and they are the ones that keep the pride together while the males change out every few years. Female lions also outlast males with an average lifespan of 15 years compared to 12 years.
And when it comes to parenting, lionesses work together as communal parents. The females will suckle one another’s young for the good of the entire pride.
Hyena females are highly unique and interesting. They are one of the only female animals to have a clitoris that forms a fully erectile “pseudopenis,” which is almost indistinguishable from a male’s phallus. In fact, it can be difficult to differentiate between males and females unless cubs are involved. In addition, females are far more aggressive than males, and they’re socially dominant. In a clan, the highest-ranking male will be second place to the lowest-ranking female, and no male will ever have the opportunity to rise above a female.
As for size, females are larger by as much as 10 percent, probably because they get the best food with every kill.
4. Wild Dogs
African wild dogs, also known as painted hunting dogs, are highly social animals with separate dominance hierarchies for males and females. Unlike most other animal societies, it’s the females who scatter and leave the pack as they grow mature, and that’s because the oldest female tends to become the pack leader alongside the alpha male. And unlike other species, wild dogs stick together.
For example, an alpha female of a pack in Botswana lost one of her forelegs in a hunt. Instead of being sentenced to death, she remained the alpha female for years, continuing to breed and raise her pups. The fact is that alpha females retain their status for life while the male doesn’t.
Meerkat society is dominated by an alpha male and female who rule over the entire roost. Below them, it’s the female “mobs” or “gangs” that decide how things turn out. It’s a strictly hierarchical society led by a matriarch and her subordinates. One of the reasons why is because females are more testosterone-fueled than males. Females, not males, growl, bite, brawl, steal food and start wars. In fact, it will be the females who lead the mob in battling predators.
Leopards are one of the top predators in Africa. They take on small- to medium-sized prey, dragging the carcass up into a tree to preserve their meal. This behavior is taught entirely by the female leopard, which will spend 22 months raising her cubs and teaching them how to survive. It’s a highly maternal society with mothers caring for their offspring as long as they need her, occasionally up to four years or more.
A solitary creature, female leopards are tough and some of the greatest hunters in Africa.
The female Topi antelope is one-of-a-kind. While, in most species, the male crazily pursues the female during mating, it’s the opposite here. Female Topi antelopes have a far greater sex drive than males, giving them control of the mating game. During mating season, it’s the females who fight over the males as they seek their preferred partner for the season. And it can get so aggressive, that females will break up in-progress mating between rival females for the male they want.
There’s no doubt that Africa is home to some remarkable female animals that not only rule the plains but their own lives. We could definitely learn a few things from them.