The lion has been one of the most talked about animals on the African plains, and not surprisingly has been the main topic of conversation around camp fires for thousands of years. The lion is the greatest of all the African cats, the largest in the world being the Asian tiger, and fortunately these cats never share the same habitat.
The lion's most distinctive feature is the mane of the males. These manes are generally a tan colour, graduating to black. Adult male lions reach 120 cm (3.9 ft) tall at the shoulder and weigh up to a massive 200 Kg (440 lb.), the heaviest recorded being 260 Kg (572 lb.). The female are predictably smaller, averaging 10 cm (2.5 in.) smaller and 70 Kg (154 lb.) lighter.
Prey and Hunting
The lion is the epitome of the carnivore (meat eating animal). They will in fact take just about any form of it. Records show that lion have taken rabbits, tortoises, porcupines, pangolins, aardvarks, birds, warthog, bushpig and crocodiles. However their main diet consists of ungulates of all sizes from the three kg (6.6 lb.), Suni antelope to the 650 kg (1430 lb.) Eland, 750 kg (1653 lb.) Buffalo and 1500 kg (3307 lb.) Giraffe.
Once within catching distance of its prey, the lion or more commonly the lioness has to bring it down and kill without getting hurt in the process. On smaller game such as an Impala ram or a bushbuck, they trip the animal, or simply drag it down by its haunches, and once down they attack the throat. To bring larger game down, such as Zebra, Buffalo or Wildebeest, a different approach is taken.
In this scenario, the lion comes at the prey from an oblique angle, rears up and throws one paw around the animal's neck, while getting another hold with the other. The lion is now literally hanging upside down from the animal, and pulls it down backwards and sideways. Once the animal is down, the lion then lunges for its throat or nose - applies a killing strangulation hold, and holds it until the animal stops moving and breathing. Assertions that lions break the neck of the animal are merely anecdotal. This does not happen.
One characteristic of lions that make them atypical of cats is their gregariousness and sociability. Lions are most often seen in prides of between two and forty animals, although 5 - 13 is the norm. As with many mammals, lion prides are matriarchal, although subservient to resident adult males. There are many advantages to communal living and the pride members benefit in a number of ways.
Firstly there is greater care of cubs, and an adult female is always in attendance with them. More members means greater hunting success, especially when they participate in a co-operative manner, and all members may feed off the kill if it is large enough. This is particularly important for cubs or adults that are injured or old and cannot hunt for themselves. Even with these advantages, there are still many solitary nomadic lions.
There is a phenomenon known as female capacity within each pride. If female numbers fall below this capacity, and there are no female offspring, sub-adult immigrants may be permitted to join. Conversely if the capacity is filled, female cubs have to emigrate as two year olds.
Breeding is non-seasonal, but synchronised within prides. During oestrus which lasts for four days, pairs couple at a rate of 2.2 times an hour for roughly 21 seconds at a time. One particular male was in fact recorded as having copulated 157 times in 55 hours with three different females.
A typical litter of three cubs are born after a three and a half month gestation. Parental care is augmented by communal pride care, and females suckle one another's cubs. Even with very good parental care, less than half the cubs born will reach the yearling stage. It has been estimated that for each cub that does, lions have copulated at least 3000 times. Cubs can fend for themselves at around 16 months.
One last point is the issue of man eaters. Once lion have killed and eaten humans, they quickly develop a taste for us. We are far easier to hunt and catch and are far more tender, without tough skin or hair. Thus lions that have eaten humans generally have to be destroyed. Lions do not account for a great number of deaths of people on an annual basis.
The rare incidences of lion attack are reported from the Kruger National Park. These cases entail illegal aliens attempting to cross the Park at night, when they attempt to get into South Africa from Mozambique. Lions found killing these people are themselves summarily destroyed. The topic of man-eaters is comprehensively explored in the Special Knowledge and Skills (Dangerous Animals) course from Wildlife Campus.
Source: Wildlife Campus