The lion is the largest of the African cats; it is easy to distinguish between male and female lions due to the majestic mane donned by all male lions. Manes can be either cream to black in colour. Lions have a tail which has short hair and is the same colour as the rest of the body.
Lions are a cream coloured to reddish-grey, and their young (lion cubs) are born with faint spots which they outgrow by adulthood.
Lions live in groups, called Prides, numbering anywhere from 3 to 30 individuals; the size of the pride is largely dependent on how much prey is available in an area. Usually, there are about 1 to 4 male lions in a pride, several females of which one is the dominant female, sub-adults and cubs. In Botswana, lion prides consist of about 6 individuals.
Lion territories are protected by both male and female against nomadic or solitude lions not part of the pride. Lions mark their territories with urine, droppings and by earth scratching. The mighty roar of the lion is also used to ward off any approaching stranger. Roaring and grunting can also be used for general communication.
Female lions hunt for food for the pride, and the males have the privilege of eating before the female lions; cubs eat whatever remains from the kill. Lions are mostly active at in the cool hours of the morning and at night.
It is most sociable member of the cat's family, living in prides of 3-30 individuals. Pride size varies according to the area and prey availability. In Botswana prides usually 6 or fewer individuals, whereas average pride size in Kruger National Park is about 12.
Prides normally consist of 1 to 4 adult males, several adult females (one of which is dominant) and a number of subadults and cubs. Both the males and females defend a pride area or territory against strange lions but some prides and solitary males are nomadic.
Territories are marked by urine, dropping and by earth scratching. The might roars of the lion is audible over kilometres and also serves to indicate that an area is occupied.
Most of their activities takes place at night and during the cooler daylight hours. The females undertake most of the hunting, and despite the fact that the males play little part in most kills they feed before the females. Cubs compete for what remains once the adults have finished their meal.
Lions hunt medium to larger mammals, particularly ungulate species (hoofed animals). Lions will also eat mice and even young elephants; they sometimes scavenge and chase other predators from their kill.
Scientific name: Panthera leo
|Male: total length 2,5-3,3m; tail 1,0m; shoulder height 1,2m; mass 150-225kg
|Female: total length 2,3-2,7m; tail 1,0m; shoulder height 1,0m; mass 110-152kg
|Identification pointers: Large size; usually uniform tawny colour; males with long mane; dark-tipped tail. Cannot be confused with any species.
Lions breed all- year round and give birth to anything from 1 to 4 four cubs (sometimes 6) weighing about 1.5kg. The gestation period of a lion is 110 days.
Female lions give birth in highly secluded areas and return to join the pride only when the cubs are between 4 and 6 weeks; interestingly, the female lion will only rejoin the pride with her new cubs if the pride doesn’t have cubs older than 3 months.
Lions very rarely attack human beings, but warning signs of an angry lion are: lion will drop into a crouch, flatten its ears and growl whilst flicking its tail very fast from side to side. Before a lion pounces, it will jerk its tail up and down.