You may have seen a photo of some “gay” lions circulating on social media recently.
Photographer Nicole Cambré‘s shots of two (seemingly) male lions frolicking (seemingly) amorously in the wild was held as adorable proof of homosexuality in the animal kingdom.
But as the internet news cycle churned, the waters grew muddy, and things now may not be what they seem. Snopes, per usual, has an exhaustive investigation into the truth of the internet’s cherished gay lions.
First, National Geographic posited that one of the lions may just be a female African lion with a mane, because gender is over in 2016. “I’ve never seen male-to-male interaction like that, and I’ve been working [in Botswana] for 20 years,” said lion expert and Virginia Polytechnic Institute professor Kathleen Alexander. “I would say it’s more likely a maned lioness.”
Then, Cambré released a video that clearly showed both the lions were male, and eyes duly turned to the Washington Post, whose own lion expert claimed that yes, both the lions are males, but no, they’re not mating.
“It’s a bromance, not Brokeback Mountain,” Craig Packer, a University of Minnesota professor who is one of the world’s top experts on African lions, told the paper.
The pair’s affectionate activities are “more persistent than I’ve ever seen in the wild,” Packer noted. But he said it’s comparable behavior to when a pet dog goes to town on someone’s leg. “If there was a receptive female that would wander up about that point, they would stop that,” he added.
Lastly — and this is entirely more information about lion mating than we were prepared to receive this week — Packer says lions let out a “distinctive yowling noise” upon, uh, completion, which is absent in Cambré’s video.
Sorry to burst your bubble, internet. Lion-O from Thundercats remains the definitive “gay lion” icon in pop culture.