The Maasai lion, also known as the East African lion, is a subspecies of the African lion (Panthera leo) found in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Congo. It is classified as vulnerable
Whether you’re a fanatic of the most beautiful animal the earth can know, or you’re just here to learn more about the Maasai lion, be welcome to Lion Kingdom! 🙌 We’ve been lion enthusiasts and specialists since 2012, and our presence on the web includes educating people about the king of the jungle.
In this article, you’re going to find out what the Maasai lion is and its historical relationship with the people around it. You will also discover that it has gone from being persecuted and hunted to being protected and revered in just a few short years. Let’s get started now!
Definition of the Maasai Lion
The Maasai lion or East African lion (Panthera leo nubica) is a subspecies of lion found in East Africa. This specimen is described as being from “Nubia”. The subspecies includes previously recognized subspecies such as Massaica, which was originally described from the Tanganyika territory in East Africa.
The Maasai lion was first presented as being smaller with longer legs and a less curved back than other lion subspecies. Males have moderate tufts of hair on the knee joint, and their manes are not full and resemble a comb back. Male lions in East Africa are typically 2.5 to 3.0 meters long, including the tail. Female lions are generally smaller, at only 2.3 to 2.6 meters long.
Both male and female lions have a shoulder height of 0.9 to 1.10 meters. The weight of males is generally 145 to 205 kg and that of females 100 to 165 kg. Thus, it would be heavier than the average southern African lion (Kalahari, southeastern or southwestern African lions) which weigh less than 230 kg. But no exceptionally large southern African lion weighed more than 272 kg.
Male Maasai lions are known for their wide variety of manes. Mane development is related to age: older males have more extensive manes than younger ones. Manes continue to grow until the age of four or five, long after lions have reached sexual maturity. Males living in the highlands above 800 m develop heavier manes than lions in the wetter, warmer lowlands of eastern and northern Kenya. The latter have few, if any, manes. 🌍
The Maasai lion was first described on the basis of sightings in northern Uganda near Kavirondo and southern Kenya, as well as near Lake Manyara, around Mount Kilimanjaro and in the Tanga area.
Maasai Mara Lion
Of all the cats in the Maasai Mara, the Lion is the only one that commands much admiration and respect. It is the largest of the African cats, and is commonly referred to as the “King of the Jungle”. In Kenya, you can see these sublime creatures on a safari in the Maasai Mara reserves or by visiting one of Kenya’s national parks and reserves. It is estimated that there are between 850 and 900 lions in the Maasai Mara National Reserve and surrounding conservancies.
Maasai Lion Population and Habitat
Lions are the most sociable beings of the cat family. They live in herds of 15 to 20 members, with up to three males, several adult females (including a dominant one), and a number of sub-adults and cubs. In general, males can occupy a territory of 20 to 400 km2. Within this territory, there may be several groups of females.
In the Maasai Mara, females do most of the hunting, assisted by males in the killing of large animals. They prefer wildebeest and zebra, but outside of the annual “migration” they have often been seen taking other prey, even buffalo and warthogs. Due to their high metabolism, they sleep about 20 hours a day, and hunts are often conducted at night. 🦌
Reproduction of the Maasai Mara Lion.
The estrous cycle of females lasts about 4 days, copulations last an average of 20 seconds, and only one in 5 cycles produces an average of 3 cubs (after 3 1/2 months of gestation). Males are driven out of the lion pride between 2 and 3.5 years of age, while females can stay indefinitely. Cubs are weaned between 7 and 8 months and until that age, they are suckled by any lioness. They have a lifespan of about 14 to 20 years.
Lion cubs are born with blue eyes that turn amber or brown when they are two to three months old.
Big Cat Behaviors and Communication
Lions have one of the most complex communication behaviors of any cat. They can make a variety of calls, including roars, growls, whines, grunts, meows, purrs, buzzes and huffs. They are the loudest of all big cats and can be heard up to 5 miles away! 🗣
Lions roar for many reasons, from territory protection, to intimidating rivals, to locating other members of the pride, and to help build social cohesion. Another benefit of roaring is that female lions can recognize the roar of a male that belongs to their pride from that of a stranger – this helps females keep a safe distance from strangers who would most likely try to harm their cubs.
Maasai Lion Hunt
Disclaimer: Lion Kingdom does not promote or support the practice of lion hunting. We are also totally against it. However, our goal is to educate the world about the culture and traditional beliefs of the Maasai on their relationship with the lion. We will not show any shocking images in this article.
How did the Maasai hunt lions?
Facing a lion in the African savannah was the experience of a lifetime. From that day on, your life would change forever. Hunting a lion was traditional, fun and dangerous. The question is: Why did warriors hunt lions? Here are some of the cultural reasons, strategies and tools used by Maasai warriors to hunt lions. 🗡
Lion hunting was a historical tradition and practice that played an important role in Maasai culture. This practice was different from trophy hunting, it was symbolically a rite of passage rather than a pastime.
Why did the Maasai hunt lions?
The Maasai tribe viewed lion hunting as a sign of bravery and personal achievement. In the past, when the lion population was high, the community encouraged solitary lion hunting. However, in recent years, due to the decline in the lion population, the community has adapted a new rule that encourages warriors to hunt in groups rather than alone. Group hunting, called olamayio in Maasai, has indeed allowed the lion population to grow.
According to Maasai customary law, warriors were not allowed to hunt a lion that was drought-stricken, trapped or poisoned. It was forbidden to hunt a lioness unless the lioness posed a threat to livestock or human life. The Maasai clearly understood that lions are important to the ecology of the savanna. 🌿
The lion hunting experience allowed Maasai warriors to demonstrate their fighting skills on a non-human target. At the end of each age bracket, usually after 10-15 years, the warriors would count all the lions they hunted and then compare them with the previous age bracket. The objective was to compare the number of lions hunted between the previous age group and the current age group.
What was the Maasai doing with a dead lion?
The Maasai do not eat game meat. They rely strictly on cows, sheep and goats. Three products from a dead lion are used: the mane, tail and claws. The mane is beautifully beaded by the village women and returned to the hunter. The mane is worn on the head only during special ceremonies. This helped warriors in distant regions to identify the toughest warrior. 👑
After the meeting ceremony, when a warrior became a young elder, he was obliged to throw the lion’s mane. The warrior had to sacrifice a lamb, oil the mane with sheep oil and throw it into the desert. This sacrificial event was done to avoid evil spirits. The mane has a particular spiritual connection to the warrior. The warrior had to honor it.
The lion’s tail was stretched and softened by the warriors and then given to the women of the village to bead it. They would receive the tail in return when the beading was complete. The warriors kept and guided the lion’s tail in their manyatta (warrior camp), until the warrior’s hood was finished. The lion’s tail was the most valuable product in the practice of lion hunting. After graduation, a group of warriors would gather and pay a special last tribute to all the collected lion tails.
Relationship Between Lions and Maasai Today
The Maasai have a long-standing relationship with the lion, dating back many generations. In the past, it was a ritual of passage for a warrior to kill a lion to prove his courage. But today, the relationship between the lions and the Maasai has changed. They live alongside them and protect them. ✋
The lions help us by killing other predators like hyenas that prey on our pets. Without lions, there will be no natural balance and other animals would die. They are an important part of the ecosystem. Tell us about one of them. The lions are the natural heritage and pride of the Maasai and people from all over the world come to see them. Tourism is today an essential source of income.
For us, living with the lions is beautiful, seeing them is a meditation (like yoga). I am proud and feel lucky to be born in such a beautiful country with lots of animals. 🙏