14 Inspiring Animals That Are Leaders (In-Depth Guide)

a pride leader alpha lion resting

In the animal kingdom, having a leader is crucial to maintaining the natural order. From creating boundaries, providing food, building social hierarchies, and maintaining group cohesion, leaders play a vital role in group dynamics.

Examples of animals that are leaders include lions, wolves, elephants, hyenas, dolphins, deer, and gorillas, among others. A leader or leaders get chosen based on age, sex, lineage, experience, strength, and (or) other physical factors.

What Type of Animal Leaders Exist?

Depending on the species, there are various animal leaders with different duties and obligations. However, there are three common types of animal leaders: male leaders, female leaders, and pair leaders.

  • Male Leaders 

Alpha males in animal groups are typically the most dominant individuals. These leaders have physical characteristics that set them apart from the rest of the group (usually size and strength).

Male leaders, in many cases, take on the role of protector by defending the group from potential predators. In addition, alpha males may display aggressive behavior towards other male members of their group to maintain their dominance.

When it comes to mating, alpha males typically have the pick of females.

  • Female Leaders

In a social structure where the leader is a female, it is known as a matriarchy.

In some species, female leaders are typically the oldest and the most experienced. In others, females are ranked higher than males and hence are chosen by lineage.

The role of alpha females varies significantly from species to species, but in most animal societies, the female leader is an integral part of the group’s success.

  • Pair Leaders

Pair leaders are two individuals of the same species, most commonly a male and a female, that form pairs and are responsible for maintaining stability within their group.

A dominant couple usually has priority over all other members when it comes to feeding and mating.

List of 14 Animals That Are Leaders

Wolves

two wolves in a snowy woods

Wolves have a pack mentality, and they stay together for the sake of survival. But some of them have enunciated tendencies toward leadership. And indeed, the pack needs a leader to guide it, for better or for worse.

At the top of the wolf pack is a dominant couple. Below them are their offspring from one or two litters. Sometimes there are other family members or lone wolves who need shelter and food. All in all, the average wolf pack has seven or eight members.

The dominant male and female are in charge of everything. They decide where and when to hunt, how to distribute food, and whether to exclude someone from the pack. On the other hand, subordinate wolves can build relations of superiority and subordination among themselves.

Also, the alpha female mates only with the alpha male, and that’s how the dominant wolf couple prevents uncontrolled pack growth and keeps its strength.

Gorillas

big black gorilla walking on grass

The gorillas’ intelligence is impressive, so it’s no wonder how these animals organize their society. 

Gorillas form troops with up to four alpha males, a few females and their offspring, and a couple of young males. An average group has about ten apes.

If the troop has more than one leader, the head leader will be the strongest one. Scientists estimate that these apes become leaders at 13. Alphas have gray back hair, distinguishing them from younger males with black backs. 

Troop leaders like to show their superiority by beating their chests. The louder, the better. This gesture should impress the females and scare the other males so that they don’t mess with the leader.

But alpha males are not just braggarts; they have several duties. They must protect their troops and provide them with shelter and food. Lastly, the leaders organize activities for the whole pack, such as hunting, bathing, playing with the cubs, etc. 

As for the females, they can move between troops, but they usually stay where they reproduce.

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Hyenas

pack of four hyenas

Hyenas are predators with fantastic intelligence and hunting skills. Still, due to their size, they had to organize themselves in groups to hunt and survive in harsh conditions. And every clan needs a strong leader.

In the case of hyenas, that role belongs to females, who are responsible for several tens or even hundreds of clan members. 

Females are physically superior and more aggressive than males. Also, they have better social support, which “pushes” them toward the leader position.

Female hyenas impose their dominance for a good reason. Namely, male hyenas often eat their cubs when they lack food. As that can be disastrous for the clan, the female leaders stop it by fighting rebellious males. Also, dominant females prevent conflicts within the clan, organize hunting and prey distribution, and mate. 

Males usually emigrate from native packs to others, becoming the lowest-ranked members. But they enjoy one privilege because female leaders often mate with them. And since the ladies choose, male hyenas have no reason to fight for them, which justifies the low aggressiveness.

Lions

pride of lions resting on grass

Unlike their domestic peers, lions are highly social. Life in the savannah is much easier when you’re a pride member. Lion prides consist of several males, the strongest of which stands out as the leader, a couple of related females, and cubs. 

Males’ job is to protect pride and territory. They must also find the best living environments, water spots, and shelters. In addition, males have their tender side, as they actively participate in the cubs’ upbringing. 

Lions are good fathers, but they usually expel young males from pride when they’re sexually mature, thus preventing inbreeding. 

On the other hand, lionesses remain devoted to native pride their entire lives, caring for their offspring. But when they’re not moms, females are fierce hunters and food suppliers. 

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Elephants

herd of elephants on field

In the elephant world, girls run the world. These giants are a typical example of matriarchy, as the herd leadership belongs to the oldest and, by default, the wisest and most experienced female.

The herd core consists of the lady boss, her daughters, and their offspring – about dozen females. The leader relies on her experience and extraordinary ability to remember when the herd is looking for food, water, or a place to rest.

Males, although stronger, are often subordinated in this system. They stay in the natal herd until they’re 15, after which they continue their lives alone or with other “rejected” males. These boys form their own smaller groups known as “bachelor” herds, with the oldest and strongest elephant as a leader.

Herd members often wander around other groupings, looking for females to mate with. And the ladies from the female herd also like to hang out with elephants from other groups, but they don’t leave the natal herd.

Baboons

baboon carrying baby on back

Baboons practice some form of democracy in their groups. A troop leader is a dominant male who’s not the biggest, strongest, or oldest, but the one with the most supporters.

These primates enjoy the crowd, so they spend almost their entire lives with family, friends, and even enemies. They often stay in the same habitat, hunting, grooming, and sleeping. Also, they protect each other from lions, tigers, and opponent baboons.

Males roam between groups, while females stick to the natal troop. They have good relations with almost all females in the troop. The alpha lady is not always the oldest. Still, she’s the most capable of taking care of the cubs, distributing food, and finding water and shelter. 

Baboons are intelligent creatures who understand the role of a leader. But they’re also wise enough to know that the alpha is sometimes wrong. Thus subordinate members can make their own choices as long as they don’t conflict with the troop rules.

Orcas

two orcas in the water

The group of orcas, known as a pod, is led by a dominant female who is the mom, sister, and even a granny to other family members. These social structures usually count a dozen members. Each pod also has a specific communication method that differs from others. 

Orcas hunt, sleep, play, and protect each other. Although these large mammals have no natural predators, that doesn’t mean that dangers don’t lurk. 

Dominant orca females are tough but great moms. They have a strong bond with their calves, teaching them to hunt, socialize, and get ready for an independent life. Because at some point, young orcas will leave the natal pod to join another one or form their own.

Pods wander around the ocean, but they unite temporarily during mating season. In this period, some orcas transfer to other pods for breeding, which helps genetic diversity. That usually happens between neighboring groups.

Giant Otters

giant otter in a muddy river

Giant otters live as a real family in the social formation known as a holt. There are mom and dad, i.e., the dominant couple and their children, with about a dozen members. 

A leader is a female in charge of pups and food distribution, while the male hunts and provides shelter.

An apparent hierarchy among younger holt members almost doesn’t exist. Everyone is responsible for finding food, building shelter, and protecting the group from danger. Individuals do, however, leave the holt at some point.

That usually happens after reaching sexual maturity, when giant otters seek mating partners to form their own holts. Yet, if they fail, these runaways return to their original holt.

Rats

group of rats drinking from bowl

Rat colonies may seem upside-down, but these intelligent animals can establish and respect a hierarchy. Although these groups have several hundred members (mostly females), they live in perfect order.

There are alphas capable of keeping group members under control. Then comes beta and gamma males, who are right under the alpha. They prevent internal conflicts and disorder in a colony. And chaos can happen if a single rat is left out of the hierarchy.

Rats are pests, but they want a quiet and safe place with plenty of food. They don’t hunt but move around a lot, looking for a food source. 

So alpha’s task is to keep other members calm and organized to maintain social order and the colony’s integrity.

Lemurs

group of lemurs on the grass

Did you know that lemurs are primates, i.e., our distant relatives? And just like people, they’re social and live in an orderly system. 

However, unlike human society, which is primarily patriarchal, lemurs are ruled by matriarchy.

The dominant female lemur holds the group together (10 to 15 members). They’re aggressive and territorial and aren’t afraid to fight with opposing groups. 

The males are there for mating and finding food, but the females can expel them if they’re aggressive or useless to the group.

Lemurs earn their status due to their intelligence. The smartest ones get the most grooming, a favorite activity of these primates and, at the same time, an act of social bonding. 

Chimps

two chimpanzees sitting next to each other

Chimps are another proof of the importance of family for primates. They stay together throughout their lives, forming a group of several dozen individuals. The dominant male is the leader, followed by several younger males, females, and young chimps.

The alpha is in charge of everything, from mating to food distribution. He enjoys many perks but has obligations to maintain group peace. The leader also determines which group members can mate with each other.

Sexually mature females go in search of males outside their natal troops. They can even change several troops during their lifetime. 

Babies certainly stay with their moms but also form a special bond with other related females. They’ll take care of them if anything happens to their moms. 

Chimps accept a range of social bonds besides familiar ones, so they can make friends and find partners among opposite troops.

However, even though these apes are social, they are also quite unpredictable. At one moment, two different groups can interact in peace, while at another moment, there can be chaos.

Dolphins

pod of dolphins swimming underwater

Dolphins are most similar to humans in terms of social behavior. They can form different relationships with others but also impose themselves as leaders. 

Dolphin groups are called pods, and they’re unique because the members are constantly changing.

The pod’s leader is a male who demonstrates dominance by chasing, hitting, and biting others from the same group. But he doesn’t have the authority to preserve the pod’s integrity. Instead, dolphins wander around to meet and join other pods. 

Dolphins form bonds that aren’t rigid. Thus, the same dolphin can be a member of the nursery group until juvenile and then form a particular group with other young dolphins. 

Deer

big herd of deer on green field

Despite being large animals, deer are a frequent target of predators such as wolves, coyotes, and bears. That’s why these ungulates form groups to ensure survival in the wild. The group leader is the dominant buck with priority in mating and territory.

Deer herds are mixed, with females often forming their own sub-herds. They have unquestionable integrity but are still under male “management.” 

The dominant doe guides other females and teaches them survival skills. The fawns stay with their moms until they are one year old when the alpha doe takes them out of the herd.

As for the male part of the herd, their task is to find food and females for mating. Although dominant bucks have an advantage over the males, they have to “seduce” the does. Also, if two alpha bucks target the same female, they’ll fight for her.

Meerkats

group of meerkats on sandy ground

Meerkats live in mobs made up of members of several different families. Dozens of these tiny animals live under the patronage of dominant couples. 

Alpha females control the mob since they’re the only ones to have pups. On the other hand, alpha males have to fight for that status.

Older pups are on the level below, with titles of beta males and females. They’re temporary babysitters for newborns but also main mob sentries. And they teach the youngest ones new skills, such as danger watching.

When they reach sexual maturity, young meerkats leave their natal groups to find mating partners among other mobs.

Some females, however, may decide to dethrone a dominant female, whether it is their mother or sister. If she succeeds, she’ll completely expel the former alpha from the mob.

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