Community of Curiosity - January: Apex Predators

mpm community of curiosityFor January, we’re exploring apex predators.

What are these species at the top of the food chain, and what is our relationship to them? Several can be found right here at MPM... and some even in your own backyard! Visit us in person or dive into our digital resources to learn more.


At the Museum

Claws, Teeth, & Talons: the World of the Apex Predator

We’re all familiar with the main apex (or top) predators -- the lions, tigers, and bears. But did you know that you may have an apex predator in your backyard? Can you pass the MPM “Pick the Predator” test, and are you brave enough to go forth into the wilderness of the Museum’s Third Floor on our “Hunt the Hunters” challenge? Join us as we celebrate these intriguing creatures, and explore how humans have long accepted our place in the world alongside the toughest animals around.

get curious
Get Curious!

If you visit MPM this month, you may see our Get Curious signage on the Third Floor by Africa. There, we encourage our visitors to “get curious” about our relationship with apex predators.

The Maasai live in Kenya and northern Tanzania along the arid lands of the Great Rift Valley. They are pastoralists, meaning they center their livelihood around cattle and livestock. The Maasai have shared this land for hundreds of years with the wildlife, including lions. Lions are the apex predator of the East African grasslands. With no natural predators, they play an important role in their ecosystem. 

In recent decades, droughts, a rise in the human population, decline in the lion population, new borders and restrictions on natural land, decrease in natural prey, and an increase of cattle attacks have changed the way the Maasai and lions interact. Due to the population decline, lions are now classified as a vulnerable species. In order to protect the lions and the ecosystem they live in, Maasai warriors have begun to protect lions and other wildlife in the land they share.

Onsite Question Answers 

What might happen if lions were removed from the grassland food chain?

Lions are apex predators. They help keep the balance and biodiversity of their ecosystem. Losing lions could cause trophic cascade, a phenomenon where predators are either removed or reduced, having an indirect effect on the trophic levels below them. For example, lions hunt zebras, which are herbivores or primary consumers. Lions help keep the zebra population at a healthy number, which protects the grasslands that other animals need to survive. Without lions, the ecosystem would lose its apex predator, resulting in increased numbers of primary consumers, such as zebras, wildebeests, and antelopes. These herbivorous animals could then exhaust the plant resources, or producers, in the ecosystem. This could lead to soil erosion and habitat loss. The herbivores would be in competition for the remaining plant resources, and some species would be unable to get enough food to survive. This could have devastating effects on the biodiversity of this ecosystem.  

What changes do you believe could be made to help the Maasai and lions coexist?

The Kenyan and Tanzanian governments have agreed to help offset the costs associated with the loss of cattle, which decreases the amount of retaliatory lion hunts by the Maasai. In 2007, the Lion Guardians, a group of Maasai and conservationists, formed with the goal of protecting lions. The Maasai are working on living in harmony with lions by changing their practices and traditions in the following ways:

  • “Living walls” made of African myrrh trees, combined with chainlink fences, are being constructed as a way to protect the cattle and the lion by providing a more efficient barrier between the two.
  • In place of the Ala-mayo, the ritual killing of lions to achieve warrior status, the Maasai have created a new event to mark the transition to manhood: the Maasai Olympics. Young men and women compete in a series of athletic events featuring traditional Maasai skills, such as spear throwing for distance, club throwing for accuracy, running, and the high jump. 
  • The Maasai have adapted their hunting skills and started using new technology to help them track lions. This helps them avoid lion attacks and predict where attacks may occur.
  • The Lion Guardians give each lion a name. Naming the lions helps create a bond between the lions and Maasai. 

Learn more at:

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At Home

Family Resources
Meat-Eaters and Plant-Eaters

Exhibits like Hell Creek at MPM help us understand the differences between meat-eating and plant-eating dinosaurs. Download our activity to cut apart cards listing different dinosaur characteristics, then work with your early learner to sort each card by meat-eater or plant-eater. Use the final page to check your work and learn more about paleontology and dinosaurs!

Try It

MPL Booklist 

Want to learn more about predators? Check out Milwaukee Public Library’s booklist for reading recommendations.


Special Event

dinosaur on couch drinking tea with moonMPM Night In

Stay home, put on your dino PJs, and join us for another great "night in" with MPM! During this interactive virtual event, learn shocking secrets meant for older audiences only, get tested on your knowledge about your favorite exhibits, and compete against friends from the comfort of home.

This is an adults-only virtual event.

Details and Tickets