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Премия рунета 2017

Girl power. How do females lead in the wild

08 march 2020
To celebrate the International Women's Day, WWF-Russia is going to tell you about the species where the phrase "Ladies first" is not just a matter of courtesy

There are all kinds of relations between specimens in the wildlife. Different behavioral patterns help them survive in different circumstances. However, the diversity of social relationships between animals is now threatened due to biodiversity loss — there are less and less species on Earth and wildlife needs our help.

"In fact, matriarchy is natural, although most animal species stick to patriarchy. Still, there are species within which female animals play the leading role,"— explains Dmitry Gorshkov, the Director of WWF-Russia Biodiversity Program. "Evolution puts everything into its place and eventually, for some this second variant proved to be more beneficial for survival. It can serve as an efficient tactic for 'peaceful' species of animals that do not need to protect their territory, for example. Since females live in groups, they suffer lower risks of dying or being hurt in fights. So they become keepers of knowledge who preserve migratory pathways, etc. Patriarchy is a dominating form of social organization, and there is a number of reasons for it. First, males have much shorter periods of vulnerability (like pregnancy and nurturing) and they are always ready to protect their territory and group. Second, maternal instinct does not allow females to sacrifice their babies if it is needed for survival of the group. However, chief males have to prove their position. Loosen your grip for just a moment — and you're no longer the alfa."

The most famous matriarchs in the animal world are of course, hyenas and elephants. In Russia, there also are some species whose females play leading roles. 


Even though during estrus male reindeer constantly start fights to prove their superiority, females have antlers, too. So, in periods of migration female reindeer are in control and lead the group. During the season, wild reindeer can cover up to 3,000 km, although today things are a lot harder for them. There may be velvet antler hunters waiting for them at crossings — these poachers hide in boats with chainsaws and saw antlers off live animals right in the middle of a river. Besides, the thawing of permafrost causes river banks to cave making it harder for fawns to climb up in some spots. 

European bisons

The leader of a bison group is always a female. Family herds are composed of several mature females, a few males, and young stock that doesn't reproduce yet. The chief female can leave the herd for giving birth—she goes away to return a few days later with babies. At the start of the 20th century,  European bison went extinct in the wild, but now you can find them in the Caucasus and forests of the Central European part of Russia. During late 1990s WWF-Russia initiated the Bison Preservation Strategy. With support of WWF, they brought animals from other countries to increase their numbers and improve genetic diversity in nurseries. The babies born in nurseries grow up and are released into the wild. 



Gorals are hoofed goat-like animals inhabiting the rocky territories of the Russian Far East. The largest population in Russia can be found in the Sikhote-Alin Nature Reserve. Female gorals take leading positions in herds, same as in other species of the goat subfamily, for instance, chamois, that can be found in the Caucasus. For the major part of the year, adult males live separately, while an experienced female leads a group of younglings. It is a rare animal and is put on the Russian Red Book of Endangered Species. WWF-Russia helps employees of conservation territories, inhabited by gorals, study these unusual animals and protect them from human impact. In order to preserve a species, we need to expand the system of SPNAs and create wildlife corridors.

Red-necked pharalope 

This species does not live under matriarchy, of course, but they are highly independent. This bird, that can be found on the Arctic islands, doesn't lead a typical family life. While males of other species have distinctly bright plumage, for pharalopes it is their ladies who 'dress' in colorful feathers. Besides, once a female has conquered an inconspicuous grey and white male she won't let him go far away, since she plans to leave the nest and eggs in his care. The male will then breed their babies dutifully, while the female goes on with her life. The photo of this female was taken on the Kolguev island. The government placed the island under its protection last year—and established the State Nature Reserve of Regional Significance called 'Kolguevsky', created with assistance of the experts of WWF-Russia.


Orcas, like many other whales, have matriarchy. It means that the most experienced mature females rule their groups. Their daughters help them while 'grandmas' raise the young generation. If the matriarch dies prematurely, it becomes harder for younglings to survive. Besides, research shows that it is harder for males to deal with loss than it is for males. In Russia, orcas populate the coasts of Kamchatka and Chukotka. In order to preserve these amazing animals, we need to create protected areas both on land and on the water. If the most important water areas are protected from human impact, orcas will always have enough food and a safe place to live.


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