Over the African plains and savannah, there are many amazing and beautiful animals that call this their home. But none are as profound as the king of the jungle. The lion is a huge part of the animal population in Africa. However, the lion population has reduced by half since the 1950’s and there are only about 21,000 still in Africa today. Despite this, the Lion is one of the most popular animals associated with African wildlife.
Part of a family of big cats (Felidae), lions are distinct for their brown coats and long beautiful manes that only the male adult lions possess. These manes act as a protective barrier to protect the male lion from attacks. Manes vary in color, but are generally brown or black. Lions are quadruped and stand around four feet tall. From their nose to the tip of their tail, they can be around five to eight feet in length. A male lion can weigh as much as 500lbs and run up to 50 miles per hour. Female lions are usually smaller in size and they lack the thick mane.
One unique characteristic is that female lions do most, if not all of the hunting. Hunting is done at night in groups, to more easily ambush prey. Lions are carnivorous and eat a varied range of prey. They are known to hunt for zebras, antelope, wildebeest, giraffes, buffalo and wild hogs. Depending on the location, lions will eat what is available to them. There have even been instances where they will hunt for hippos and rhinos. On very rare instances, when food is hard to find, lions will attack lone elephants.
Lions at one time roamed all over Africa. They were even known to live in parts of Greece and India. Since the drop in their population, their density has become limited. The best place to find a lion is in the south Sahara desert. There are also places in eastern and southern areas of Africa where Lions still live.
Known for their social behaviors, lions travel in groups known as prides. Prides can be thought of as large families that the lions stay together in to protect and provide for one another. A typical pride is about 15 lions. The majority of a pride consists of female relatives and their cubs. There is usually only one dominant male lion in a pride. This male lion will join the pride for a few years until replaced by a new dominant male. In some instances, a small group of male lions, usually around two or three, will be accepted into the pride until replaced.
Lions within the pride are very social among each other. They are seen to exhibit affection towards one another by grooming, petting and licking. They sleep together in piles and purr, much like our domestic cats we keep as pets. Male lions are much more likely show aggression and are very territorial.
Lions mate throughout the year. They have liters of about three or four cubs. The gestation period is about 110 days, which is about a third of a human pregnancy. The pride will protect their young from dangerous predators while they are learning to hunt. Lion cubs usually start to hunt at around 11 months old, but they will stay close to their mothers for two years.
The lion is known as a symbol of beauty and power. Though they have experienced diminished populations, they are still roaming in prides across the Sahara desert. This is in part due to efforts to conserve the Lion and their habitat.