Zoo Scientist Speaks with Advanced Biology Students

Students in Upper School Advanced Biology welcomed a special guest Zoom lecturer to the Kovler Family Library this past week. Speaking as a senior conservation scientist, Lincoln Park Zoo’s Charles Foley, PhD, spoke discussed his work with lions.

Learn more about Foley here and read about this Zoom in the students’ own words below!

“The speaker discussed the effect of inbreeding and provided statistics on lion prides. The inbreeding connects with our unit because we have been discussing parentage and why that is important. Inbreeding causes population numbers to decline and results in overall unhealthy populations with abnormalities. Learning about this in class and then hearing someone who works at a zoo where they directly deal with preventing inbreeding is fascinating, and I believe it cements those ideas. Additionally, the speaker spoke about how 85–90% of hunting is done by females in a pride, which connects to our unit since we worked on energy calculations using four females as the hunters. Even though we knew females were mainly the hunters, I thought it was nice how he provided statistics for lion pride size (which is generally 13) because it connects all the pieces of our learning. Also, I appreciated that he talked about how lion populations are declining; there are only about 23,000–38,000 lions left, and I realized that threats to their population are mostly caused by humans. Habitat loss is connected to global warming, which is rapidly getting worse because of choices made by humans. Man-eating lions and trophy hunting are clearly threats created by humans. We are also using lions for their body parts. I believe it was important that he discussed this given we were studying these concepts in class. Also, the discussion connects to how Ms. Lesinski says there are going to be winners and losers due to climate change, and lions are clear examples of this. She stated it’s mainly the smaller animals that will do well, and lions are definitely not a small animal. Overall, the speaker was helpful in highlighting what is happening currently with the animals and their habitats that we are learning about.” —Lia Bahri ’26

“On Friday, the Advanced Biology classes were able to Zoom in with wildlife expert Charles Foley. Charles Foley specializes in studying elephants with his wife, but also has great knowledge of lions. Charles Foley taught us about pride. A pride usually consists of 13 individuals but can be much less or much more. Lionesses, or female lions, do the majority of the hunting for the pride. The males will only help hunt larger prey because they have enough mass and body weight to pull it down. This is information that we learned in the storyline unit. What came as a shock to me was the lions have lived almost all over the world, in Europe, South America, India and of course Africa. The main cause of lions dying off is because of habitat loss; when humans create farming fields and homes, they take away lions’ hunting land, so they have much less space. This connects to our storyline unit because it tells us about the history of lions and how their loss of space has caused them to move solely to Africa.” —Dal Harrell ’26

“The lecture of our speaker was very connected to what we learned in class about lions and their adaptations. One thing that I learned that stood out to me was that lions in Botswana were adapted to hunt elephants. While making my poster with my group, I learned that Botswana lions hunt elephants during dry seasons as they are more available around the lions and provide lots of energy. Another notable thing I discovered was that larger and darker manes on male lions are a beneficial adaptation. Larger and darker manes tend to be more attractive and assert more dominance, so male lions can reproduce more and keep leadership of prides for longer, which also helps them reproduce more. This ties into natural selection, which we learned a lot about in this unit. This is because the lions with larger and darker manes have a beneficial adaptation, which gives them more offspring, so the trait becomes more common.” —Noah Michenaud ’26

“I had not considered how the killing of these males by trophy hunters and local communities of humans caused such devastation in the lion community. Killing a male in one pride could cause exponential decay in a lion population. This also affects lion migration as they avoid national parks that use trophy hunters as primary income sources, particularly in the global south where many lions are.” —Chase Wayland ’26

“In the time that we had with Charles Foley, one of the things that stood out to me the most was when he talked about the lions and their interactions and relationships within a pride. Throughout our lions unit, we focused a lot on the benefits of living within a pride. He stated that lions are one of the only social cats, that many others live independently. This was surprising to me, considering all of the benefits that we had learned about. He also mentioned that 85–90% of all the hunting done within a pride is conducted by the females. This is something that we learned in class, that the females did most of the hunting for the pride. Connecting to another topic in class, we talked about why the females hunted in groups, and it was mainly to take down bigger prey and to better use their energy. I believe that this was mentioned in his lecture when he was talking about the female’s role in hunting.” —Ashley Williams ’26
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