The Lion (Panthera leo) is the only big cat that lives in social groups. These groups are called prides and consist of 3 to 30 lions. The females are often related and share care of the cubs, including suckling. The lionesses do the majority of hunting with some driving prey towards an ambush of other waiting lionesses.
Even though they do little of the hunting, the males eat first, followed by the females, then the cubs.
When full grown, males leave their pride and search for another pride to join. They fight older or injured males to become part of the new pride. The loser has to leave. Young males often kill the cubs of the beaten male. This ensures their own, future offspring, has a greater chance of survival. (Remember, cubs eat last, and if there is not enough food, they die.)
There are 2 surviving species of lions: African and Asian. Though the latter is endangered with less than 300 alive in the wild in a reserve in the Gir Forest in India. Asiatic male lions have a less prominent mane. Both males and females have a belly skin fold that African lions do not have. There are 6 subspecies of African lions.
Lions live in grassy plains, savannas, open woodlands, dense bush, and scrubland. The size of their territories is dependent on the size of the pride and the availability of prey. The males’ job is to patrol, mark and guard the territory. They drive off other males, and, of course, mate with the females.
Lions prey on medium to large herd animals. This includes antelope, zebra, giraffe, baby elephants, rhinos or buffalo. They also will eat rodents, reptiles, insects, and crocodiles. Lions will also steal prey that another animal such as a cheetah, leopard or hyena has killed.
Lion cubs weight about three pounds at birth. By age 2 they are good hunters. They are full grown at 5 to 6 years of age. A litter usually is 2 to 3 cubs. Adult male lions weigh 330 to 500 pounds, females 265 to 400 pounds. Height is 3.5 feet (females) to 4 feet (males). Length 4 ½ to 8 ¼ feet, with the males at the higher end of the range.
Fun Lion Facts
- Male lions begin to grow their manes at about 18 months old. It continues to grow until they are 5.
- The Barbary lion and Cape lion, both subspecies of the African Lion, are extinct.
- The Swahili word for lion is simba. It also means king, strong, and aggressive.
- Lionesses are more agile and faster than male lions. Both male and female lions roar.
- Lions lie around for 21 hours a day.
- Lions can go 5 to 6 days without drinking water.
African Wildlife Foundation
Big Cats Online
San Diego Zoo
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