The Lion, the king of animals owes his nickname to his imposing charisma and a flamboyant mane reminiscent of the sun. The largest feline in Africa is above all a powerful and formidable predator whose ambush and hunting techniques leave its prey with little chance. Encounter.
The Lion: a Powerful Musculature
The lion (Panthera leo) is a carnivorous mammal of the felidae family of the genus Panthera (felines) which has a highly developed musculature. Its elongated and stocky body rests on thick, muscular legs that allow it to bring down animals that can greatly exceed its size. A violent kick can cause the internal organs to rupture and even break bones of its prey.
Males and Females Very Distinct in Lions
Sexual dimorphism is very marked in the lion: the male – larger and heavier than the female – measures 1.72 m to 2.50 m long from the tip of the snout to the base of the tail and weighs between 145 and 225 kilos in adulthood. The adult female measures 1.58 m to 1.92 m without the tail and weighs between 83 and 168 kg. The color of the coat varies from creamy yellow to brown, with a lighter ventral side: buff in the male, almost white in the female.
The Lion’s Mane and Mustache
The thick mane begins to grow when the lion reaches a year and a half. Varying from blond to black, it grows thicker and darker with age. In practice, the mane proves to be a good rampart against claws during fights between rivals. Just like other felines, the lion has whiskers called vibrissae. These long hairs are sensitive to vibrations and help the lion move in the dark or when its field of vision is obstructed.
The Savannah, Its Habitat
This big cat lives mainly in sub-Saharan Africa. Populations are mainly located in national parks or protected areas in Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa. Its natural habitat is savannah, forests and deserts. In India, the Asiatic lion lives only in a final refuge: the Gir Forest National Park in the state of Gujarat.
The Lion Lives in Clan
The African lion is a gregarious animal: it lives in clan or family. The size of the territory (from 20 to 500 km2) and the number of prey determine the size of the group, which varies from three to thirty individuals. This group is generally composed of lionesses, young subjects and a dominant male in charge of protecting the tribe when the females go hunting. Rather lazy and inactive, the lion spends most of its time napping (between ten and fifteen hours a day).
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Mating : the Female Decides
The lion reaches sexual and social maturity at the age of three or four years, and even if he rises to the top of the hierarchy, he cannot reproduce without the consent of the female. It is by circling around him, rolling at his feet, rubbing his head against his neck, that the lioness provokes the dominant male. After a gestation period of about four months, the female moves away from the clan to give birth to one to four cubs weighing less than 2 kg.
Several Mothers for the Lion Cub
Babies are born with their eyes closed. They will open after ten to fifteen days. During the first six weeks, the babies will be breastfed by their mother who is protective and constantly on the alert. Prudent, she changes hiding places every three or four days, carrying the babies one by one. Then they will join the group where they can suckle other females. Around the age of six months, the cubs are weaned and will remain about two more years with their mother who will teach them how to hunt, among other things.
Rejected Young Males
When young males reach sexual maturity, they are excluded from the clan and leave in search of a new group, thus avoiding inbreeding. The young males – who form a tightly knit coalition – then travel great distances without respecting territorial boundaries. Clans of young males sometimes try to take over a troop by evicting resident males, which can lead to bloody or even deadly fights.
The Lion, a Big Eater
Animals that are too fast and difficult to catch (antelopes, gazelles, impalas…) are generally excluded from its menu. The lion prefers the large, less ballast bovines (zebras, wildebeest, buffaloes, elands, oryx). Groups may attack giraffes, elephants, hippos, warthogs, bushpigs. When it is alone, the feline attacks more modest prey (reptiles, small pachyderms, monkeys, porcupine …). It ingests nearly 7 kg of meat per day and up to 40 kg at once if the hunt was successful. It can then go without food for several days.
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A Skilled Hunting Tactician
The lion usually hunts at night, at dawn or dusk when temperatures are cooler. In reality, it is usually the lionesses who hunt for the clan using an elaborate technique: organized in packs, they encircle a herd that has been spotted beforehand and isolate their prey to finish it off. During the dry season, the lion often positions itself near water points where its prey will come to drink. When the lion returns from hunting, the hierarchy is set in motion: the male eats first, followed by the high-placed females and then the young.
No or Few Predators
Placed at the top of the food chain, the adult lion has no predators but can be attacked by crocodiles around water points. On the other hand, cubs are vulnerable to hyenas, which are also at the top of the food chain. Lions and hyenas feed on the same prey and are therefore in direct competition. While both species try not to overlap their territories, lions do not hesitate to kill hyenas when they can, sometimes without eating them.
The Lion Life Expectancy
The lifespan of a lion is 12 to 14 years in the wild, rarely more than 20 years, except for females who can reach this age. Some lions in captivity, however, have lived to the age of 30 years. Males are usually killed by a young rival or, when they can no longer find a group, they starve to death after a long wander. The lion is a victim of both the reduction of its game (competition from humans), hunting and poaching. It is also threatened by the retreat of its natural habitat, the savannah, which has been transformed into farmland or pasture and on which they are hunted by farmers wishing to protect their livestock. As a protected species and although classified as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature IUCN, the lion is at risk of extinction.
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