Known as the King of the Jungle, the Lion is celebrated the world over on August 10 annually. This year, The World Sustainability Foundation is marking the day by sharing with you all there is to know about Lions, scientifically known as Panthera Leo.
Lions are mammals which are part of the Felidae family, they are the second biggest member of the family with tigers taking the first place.
This specimen can reach 1.8 to 2.1 meters in fully grown males, weighing up to 230 kg. Females, called lionesses, are slightly smaller, reaching 1.5 meters and weighing 120-180Kg. Having short coats that vary from light yellow to orange-brown with the tip of its tail darker than the rest of the body, the male’s mane is its most outstanding feature.
Like domestic cats, lions have retractable claws used only in defense or to secure and help cut its prey. This majestic mammal is one of the most unique cats; being the only one that lives in groups, also known as pride. Their group may consist of 4 to 37 members; mainly females, that will hunt, feed and protect the cubs with one adult male. There are also groups which comprise only young males.
Lions are strict carnivores, meaning they will feed only on living prey hunted in groups, or steal from hyenas and cheetahs. Their preys consist of a variety of animals, like Cape buffalos (Connochaetes sp), baboons (Papio sp), and occasionally lonely old elephants.
Primarily, the lionesses are the only ones in a regular group that will be seen hunting, though lone males or male-only groups need to secure their own food. But a lioness never eats first, the leading male even without any effort in hunting, will be the first to taste the food, and he will eat until full. The remaining carcass is then left for other members of pride.
A pride hunt is a demonstration of raw force but with little strategy, hence why only 25% of the hunts have successful kills, and this number goes down with smaller groups.
Reaching sexual maturity at age three, lions in the wild breed once every two years, on rare occasions. However, when in captivity they can breed every year, due to the abundance of resources in comparison to the wild.
Both sexes are polygamous particularly the males, with the lioness being restricted to the leading male of the group. When receptive, they copulate up to 50 times a day, for 3 to 4 days straight; stimulating the female’s ovulation and securing the lion’s paternity.
The lion to mate will most certainly be the leader of the pride, but once in a while a foreign male will try its luck with the lioness of pride, or even challenge the dominant male in a brutal fight to earn its group. In this case, the loser is not only unable to mate, but most likely eventually dies due to injuries sustained during the crash.
The gestation lasts about 108 days with litters varying from one to six cubs, they are then looked after by the entire group; feeding, and teaching them how to fight and hunt. Most of them will be forced out of the pride after reaching sexual maturity, hence the lonely male or males only pride.
Ironically, although widely known as the “king of the jungle”, lions’ natural habitat is in the savannahs, ecosystems of bushy lowlands with few trees. The biggest part of the population is in sub-Saharan Africa, but there’s a small group living in the Gir Forest in India, a dry deciduous forest full of Tectona grandis, also known as Tea.
They can also be found in the Northern Namibian deserts, living close to the four rivers: Hoanib, Barab, Obab, and Ugab.
All subspecies are listed as Vulnerable and decreasing in number, by the IUCN’s (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species.
Threats include the destruction of their natural habitats, urban development, farming and cattle expansion; causing not only habitat destruction, but also making them the “bad guys” to farmers for eating livestock, which serves as their last source of nutrition.
Pollution of land and water bodies, human disturbance such as hunting, animal trafficking and pseudo-science, witchcraft uses of fur, paws, teeth and claws for aphrodisiacs and cure, as well as to attract power, are all threats to the Lions’ existence.
Here are some fun-facts about the Panthera Leo
*There are currently three living subspecies of Lions: Panthera leo leo, known as the Northern Lion, Panthera leo melanochaita, the Southern Lion, and the most numerous one the Panthera leo persica, the Indian Lion.
*Most lions subspecies were extinct about 2,000 years ago when they used to be hunted and thrown in the Roman coliseums for combat.
*Captive lions can reproduce with other giant cats, such as tigers. The offspring of a male lion with a female tiger is known as Liger and the offspring of a male tiger with a lioness is known as a Tigon. Ligers are often bigger than both parents, while the tigon is the same size, if not smaller.
*The older the male, the darker his mane gets. The mane is used to attract
females and also to protect the neck and head from injuries during dominance fights.
*An adult lion can eat up to 40kg of meat per meal, almost a quarter of their weight.
*They will hunt more during storms. Since they are not the most brilliant
strategists, lions use the storms in their favour to hide their smells and sounds.
*Lions have disappeared from over 90% of their historical range (Africa,
Palestine, and India)
Now that you’ve discovered all there is to know about the majestic Lion, join Friend of the Earth in our efforts to save the Panthera Leo species, by supporting the Save the Big Cats Campaign.
The World Sustainability Foundation through the Save the Big Cats Campaign seeks to preserve the Panthera genus (lion, tiger, leopard, jaguar, and the snow leopard). By supporting our initiative you will help to forestall the threats facing big cats; such as habitat loss and degradation, poaching, trophy hunting, amongst others.
Together, let’s protect prey populations by raising funds and awareness, as we preserve big cats which play a vital role in maintaining ecosystem functionality.
Happy World Lion Day!