The Lion, considered by many people to be the ‘top cat’ among felines, is in several respects quite un-feline in its behaviour and appearance. It is the only big cat that lives and hunts in groups and, unlike other cats, the males and females show markedly different physical characteristics. The male is famously distinguished from the female by his huge, circular mane of hair. Also, while other cats live alone, the sociable Lion lives in prides.
Lionesses tend to do most of the searching for prey. It’s ironic that, while male Lions are thought to be one of the most macho of beasts, it is usually the females that make the moves in hunting prey and make the majority of kills.
The Lion’s social group, the I pride, usually consists of several lionesses and their cubs and two adult males. The lionesses are related and the majority of prides are made up of several generations – mother and daughters and even, in some cases, grandmothers. The males have little close contact with the females outside the mating period and periods of feasting. Otherwise their role is to protect the pride from other, rival males.
SEXUAL BEHAVIOUR OF LIONS
Young males leave the pride at sexual maturity, when they are three to four years old. They then take up with other young males until they are ready to challenge the males of a pride for the right to mate with the females. If the young male’s challenge is successful, the defeated older male is left to live out the remainder of its life alone. The victor will kill any cubs remaining in the pride to guarantee his progeny. This has the effect of bringing the pride females on heat.
Like the domestic cat, Lions stalk their prey until they are ready to strike. Initially, several females hunt together, but as the hunt climaxes, one female makes the final leap, attacking with a blow from her forepaw and then inflicts a fatal bite in the neck region.
- NAME: Panthera leo
- RANGE: Tropical Africa south of the Sahara desert; there is a small group of the Asiatic race in the Gir Forest National Park in India.
- HABITAT: Open grassland (savannah)
- APPEARANCE: Heavily built cat with long body, short legs and large head. Males usually buff yellow to orange-yellow coat, sometimes silver-grey to dark brown, weight 170-230kg (370-500lb), height to shoulder 1.2m (4ft) , body length 1.8-2.1m (6-7ft). Females, tawny or sandy coat, weight 120-180kg (265-390lb), height 0.9-1.3 m, body length 1.5m (5ft) . In both sexes the tail is about lm (3ft) long.
- FOOD: Many wildebeest (gnus) , gazelles and other antelopes, although they will also take smaller prey such as baboons. They will also feed on carrion meat and the fresh kills of other hunters, such as the hyena.
- BREEDING: Average litter size 2-4 cubs, sometimes 1-6. Females usually breed every 2 years in the wild but in captivity may breed once a year. Cubs are blind at birth, are weaned around 7 months and reach sexual maturity at 3-4 years of age.
- GESTATION: 108 days.
- LIFESPAN: About 8-10 years in the wild, 25 years or more in captivity.
- About 5,000 years ago, Lions were distributed over the planet, in North America, most of Africa, the Middle East, and even Europe.
- Not all male Lions possess a mane, and some only have a fringe over the forehead.
- A Lion may consume up to 34kg (75lb) of meat in one meal. It will then rest for a week before it needs to hunt again.