[ Freelance Traveller Home Page | Search Freelance Traveller | Site Index ]

*Freelance Traveller

The Electronic Fan-Supported Traveller® Resource

Dombrowskis Lion (a.k.a. Kimpali Cheshire Cat)

This article originally appeared in Issue #010 of the downloadable PDF magazine.

Homeworld: Kimapli (B667556-11 Agricultural)

Type: Carnivore/Pouncer
Weight- 279kg
Length- 2.1m (+1m tail)
Height- 1.2m (at shoulder)

Hits= 25/10 Armor= Jack (side) or Cloth (front)

Teeth +3 (2D6+6 damage)
Claws (2D6 damage)

Attacks – Always
Flees – If Surprised (but will tend to double back to “investigate” in a short time)

Speed = 2 (but only for about 50-75m, then it is reduced to 1)

Dombrowski’s Lion was discovered, studied, and cataloged by the eminent xeno-biologist Professor Manuel Dombrowski, Chairman Emeritus of the Department of Xenozoological Studies of St. Ekaterina University. He came to the attention of the Grand Archives Project when his monograph on the lion’s chameleon capabilities as a predatory strategy earned him fame in the scientific community.

Regrettably, that very quality of color shifting camouflage so remarkable in such a large mammalian predator also contributed to Prof. Dombrowski’s tragic death after he returned to Kimpali to make further studies of the lion and its hunting strategies used to take its largest prey, the Paisley Bison. While no trace of the professor was ever found, the mystery of his disappearance was solved a year later when hunters found his pocket computer in the Humberk Lowlands – an area known to have a large population of both the lions and their prey.

The last recording shows that the professor was tracking what he believed to be a young bachelor lion when it turned out that the lion had doubled back and tracked him. The last image shows the gaping “grin” of the lion and its baleful yellow eyes seemingly floating in the waving grasses before lunging at the professor. The recording finally ends 12 hours later when the storage unit is full.

Cheshire Cats are the apex predator of Kimpali, and the largest carnivore found on that world, including in the seas. The lions mate for life after reaching sexual maturity at 5 years (local) of age. As K-strategy reproducers, this long-term pair-bonding helps ensure the successful upbringing of the young, of which only one is born at a time. A female can realistically expect (given an average lifespan of 30 years including the average potential lifespan that would include bearing young and raising them) to have 3-4 cubs in her lifetime. Therefore, maximum protection and effort is spent in nurturing the cub to adulthood.

For the first two years of the cub’s life it will primarily live in the den, coming out only when the mother is close by. These burrows are dug out by the female when she is in estrus and are later abandoned after the cub reaches 4.5 years of age.

During the first 2 years of its life the cub has a short and much coarser coat than the parents, and its coloration tends towards dark brown with large randomly patterned gray blotches. Because the cub doesn’t leave the den until after dark, and/or only in the company of its parents this coloration proves to be excellent protection, especially since it doesn’t develop its chameleon coat until it is over 2 years of age. At that time the cub begins to gain mass and exchange its juvenile pelt for the long (up to 60cm around the head, reaching back as a flowing “crest” from the eyebrow ridges to all along the spine), wispy adult coat that has been described as looking like smoke or a hazy mist billowing around the animal when viewed outside the tall grasses of its preferred habitat.

At 4.5 years of age the cub is driven away by both parents, but usually they leave on their own with only mild ritualistic aggression on the part of the parents to “encourage” the separation. This ritualistic aggression behavior causes the release of hormones in the female which begins the estrus cycle again so she can be ready to breed within 14 days.

The young lion will then search out an area of hunting ground that it can stake out as its own, and beginning calling for a mate in the dusk. Males do this by climbing to the top of the largest pile, or tumble of rocks it can find in order to be well above the grasses and roar as the sun goes down. This can go on for an hour or more and if a female is near, she will answer back. They will call back and forth until she arrives at the tumble (also called locally a “koppie”), and if she finds him to her liking they will mate. Otherwise she will not approach closely enough for him to see her before she leaves.

Outwardly the only sexual dimorphism between the lions is the slightly longer, but slimmer build of the female and her heavier, longer front claws. It is believed that this is to help her to dig and live inside the burrow she will raise her cub in. Since the male never enters the den this is probably accurate. The male also has considerably heavier forequarters and a denser bone structure, which aids in his role as the designated killer of the pair when hunting. The male also has far less flexibility in the neck and shoulders, causing him to have a limited ability to change direction quickly, but since it is caused by providing the anchoring for the heavy muscles that drive the shearing power of the lion’s jaws, and grip of its claws in holding down prey much larger than itself, the limit on mobility seems a fair trade. And as will be discussed later, this limitation of mobility is compensated for by the hunting strategies of the pair-bonded lions.

The lion is a quadruped with a tail that is relatively thick and rounded at the tip. The hindquarters are narrower and lower than the forequarters, although overall the animal is heavily muscled and slopes from front to back. Obviously not a chaser-type predator, the lion has short claws on the rear paws and much longer, non-retractile ones on the front. In fact the animal appears to the layman as out of proportion, having legs that appear too short and thick for the overall size of the lion. Since the animal is obviously not of the chaser-type of predator it doesn’t need longer legs and “runner’s cleats” for claws, and this design works in the lion’s favor by helping it to drag down prey by use of weight and a low center of gravity instead of wrestling with it and risking injury.

The Cheshire Cat can run faster that a human for approximately 50-75m, but then usually gives up the chase. Its preferred hunting strategy is to use its camouflaged coat and partner to sneak up on its quarry in the tall grasses. The coat of the lion has the same base color as the yellow grasses of the Kimpali hinterlands and the “Grass Seas” of the Humberk Lowlands. In both of these regions the grass can reach as high as 2.5m or more and are very flexible; constantly moving in the winds and giving the appearance of a shifting yellow ocean. The lion’s coat contains cells which shift brown and yellow colors to match the shifting shadows in the grass around them and thereby produce the chameleon effect. Because the hair is very fine the lion spends a great deal of time grooming it to remove any grasses that are tangled within its layers. This fur’s blending ability is what gives the lion its local nickname of the Kimpali Cheshire Cat; usually the lion will not be noticed except for the large yellow eyes and its gaping mouth with long tusk-like teeth seemingly floating in the waving grass.

The lion’s ears are small, and laid back against the skull indicating that it does not rely on hearing so much as smell and sight for acquiring and tracking prey. The enlarged sinus cavities with holes in the skull to allow the ballooning sinuses to enlarge as the lion inhales huge amounts of air to “taste” with the millions of specialized sensing buds lining the cavities show how important this sense is for the animal. Tests have shown that the lion can acquire, provided the wind is right, the scent of as little as a kilogram of animal dung up to 10km away – and be able to distinguish it from potential prey or another type of animal not worth bothering with (or even a threat from another lion). Prey as large as a Paisley Bison, or Unicorn Gazelle, can be tracked from up to 20km. The lion is a diurnal hunter so while it doesn’t have particularly powerful sight, once it is within visual range of the prey it relies on its parallax sight to make the kill. And unlike most of its prey, the lion sees in the full color range.

In the early mornings the lions can be seen standing tall atop “their” koppies sampling the wind with their mouths agape to search for prey, monitor what animals might have passed through their territory the night before, etc.. Then they dive down into the grass to go on the hunt.

The hunting strategy is simple: the male and female separate and slowly make their way towards a prey they have acquired the scent of and gradually widening the distance between them. When they parallel the prey, the female moves to an area approximately 25m or so ahead and upwind of the prey, while the male moves approximately 50m or more behind and down-wind. The prey will begin to scent the lion to the front and become nervous; ready to bolt to the rear, but not detect the male. The female also puts out a powerful scent from her musk glands that increases this effect and masks the odor of the male by increasing her own to the prey’s front.

The female advances slowly to the prey, crouching low as possible and moving very slowly. The male will be position be now. The female’s chameleon ability will hide her in the waving grasses until she will be so close that she can see the prey – at which time she will roar loudly and make a feinting lunge at the prey. The prey will predictably bolt in the direction of the male. The male will then lunge at the prey as it approaches, or passes by, grabbing it with its powerful front claws and clamping down with the shearing canines around the prey’s neck and head. The lion then literally just hangs it’s body weight onto the prey (the short legs help with this) which drags prey even twice the lion’s size or more to the ground. If the prey’s head and neck haven’t been crushed or torn from the body by this attack, then it is almost always so damaged, and weighed down by 600kg of lion hanging from its neck, that the prey cannot fight back. The female then arrives and helps to finish it off.

The kill will usually be devoured at the spot; any scavengers will know to stay away until the lions are finished, but if a cub needs to be fed the female and male will carry the kill between them back to the den.

While fascinating to xenologists and hunters, Dombrowski’s Lion is considered a pest by ranchers and gamekeepers. The lions have been known to dig under fences to get at domesticated Paisley Bison (who have had their “can-opener” horns removed and so are unable to defend themselves) and other farm animals wreaking tremendous damage. Since they hunt during the day they can be dealt with relatively easily by a rancher if he is at home when it happens, but it is still a dangerous business. A wounded lion’s mate will attack the hunter or rancher that fires on the other lion, so even professional hunters consider the Cheshire Cat to be among the most dangerous game in known space, exceeded possibly only by the Nikolas Damnthing and the Victoria Glider-Wolves.

The skull of a male lion (picture, previous page) shows the high sagittal crest and broadly arched zygomatic arch indicative of the massive size of the jaw muscles which contribute to the shearing power of the canines. The canines are slightly angled outwards from the mouth (and protrude slightly as a result – giving the impression that the lion needs braces) and grind against each other to maintain a sharp edge. The heavy brow ridges help shade the eyes from the bright sun over Kimpali and against any prey that might survive the initial attack to fight back. The lion has a gullet that expands to allow for gulping the large chunks of meat it tears from the prey and will usually eat enough in one kill to lie torpid and digesting atop its koppie for up to 48 hours.