lionScientific Name– Panthera leo

Conservation Status– Vulnerable

Appearance

The African lion is the world’s second largest cat species. Males of the species are easily distinguishable due to the large mane which goes around his face. This mane is black in colour. Both male and female African lions are a tawny or buff colour. They have a long tail with a black tuft on the end. Underneath their black nose the lion has a patch of white fur which surrounds the mouth.

White colour morphs exist of the African lion. These lions have a condition called leucism that means they have no pigment in the skin. These animals are not albino as they still have pigment in the eyes. These animals are rarely seen in the wild as they are easier for predators to spot and have been hunted by humans.

Males measure 1.7-2.5m (67-98in) from the head to the base of the tail. Females are slightly smaller at 1.6-1.9m (63-74in). At the shoulder males stand 1.2m (47.2in) tall. Females stand 1.1m (43.3in) tall. African lion males weigh 150-240kg (330.6-529pounds) while females weigh 122-182kg (269-401pounds).

Lifespan                                                                                  

In the wild African lions live to about 15 years old. In captivity the oldest lion ever recorded live to be 30 years old.

Diet

The African lion is a carnivore. In the wild they feed on the most common large ungulates in their area. This may include zebra, impala, Thompson’s gazelles and wildebeest. Some prides like larger meals and will hunt giraffe, baby elephants and Cape buffalo. Lions capture this large prey by hunting in groups. Lions on their own will take smaller prey such as birds, rodents, fish, eggs, reptiles and amphibians as well as scavenging for carrion.

Hunting in groups leads to success 30% of the time whereas an individual lion will only make a kill 17% of the time.

Lions drink most days if water is available. If it is not readily available though they can survive for 4-5 days by getting moisture from the stomach contents of their prey.

Habitat

African lions are native to Africa. Lions are found on the plains, in the savannah areas, woodlands and scrublands. These spaces have cover for them to den in and rest in. These areas are also home to their preferred prey items.

Most of the African continent forms home for African lions apart from the Sahara desert and rainforests.

African lionReproduction

No set breeding season exists for African lions. The female will go into oestrous multiple times throughout the year and at each of these times can mate with many males. When she finds a male to mate with she will not eat for an entire day as the pair will mate 20 to 40 times.

Once a successful mating it takes 110 days for the birth to occur. A den is created by the female away from the rest of the pride. One to four cubs are born with small round spots on their body and occasionally they will have stripes. They are also blind for the first week of their life. During their first four to six weeks of life the cubs are tucked away in the den. The mother will hunt alone near to this den so she can be close to the cubs. During this time they will gain strength and learn to walk.

After this period they can go back to the pride. Here they may suckle from any of the females as most will have given birth at the same time. When in a pride the cubs have twice the chance of surviving. That only applys if the same male is at the helm though. A new male taking over the pride would kill all the cubs under one year old to make sure all of the cubs are his own.

Cubs no longer drink milk after 6 to 7 months. After 3 years a male is able to reproduce for the first time. Females mature much later at about 4-5 years.

Behaviour

20 hours of the African lion days will be spent sleeping. Most of their activity takes place once the sun begins to go down with large amount of vocalising and grooming. In the dawn time they will go out on the hunt.

African Lions are the only big cats to form groups. These groups are known as prides. They consist of 1 or 2 males, five or six females and the cubs. Some lions live as nomads. These African lions spend their day roaming around on their own.

Lions have a range of vocalisations including snarls, hisses, coughs, miaows and woofs. The most popular of these though are the roar. Lions roars are used to advertise their presence. This call is the loudest of all the big cats and can be heard 8 km (5.0 miles) away.

Quick facts

The lion is the most studied of all the world’s cats.

Lions are regularly seen in pop culture. Some famous lions include Simba from The Lion King, the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer mascot, the cowardly lion and Elsa from the movie Born Free. They are also seen in heraldry and as the mascots of sports teams.

The Swahili word for lion is simba. This also means “king, “strong” and “aggressive.