Lion

LION (Panthera leo)

The lion is unique to cats in that it is social, forming prides comprised of multiple generations and genders. Working as a team, lions are able to take down prey like buffalo, zebra, and in some cases even elephants. Though we only think of Africa when we think of lions, they are also found in India. These lions are called Asiatic lions, for which we are planning a tour in the future.

Difficulty: Easy

Lion Description

The lion is the second largest wild cat in the world, and the largest predator in Africa. They are extremely strong and powerful animals with a deep chest and powerful legs. The lion displays the biggest difference between males and females. Males have that characteristic mane, as well as a belly fringe and elbow tufts. One of our goals during out tour is to find the black-maned lions of the Kalahari, which are just majestic animals. Male lions are also significantly bigger than females, around 30-50% bigger. Unlike many other cats, lions are uniform in coloration with their sand colored fur.

The manes of male lions shows off their fitness to females, intimidates other males, and protects them during fights

Lion Distribution and Habitat

The lion has a patchy distribution south of the Sahara, and as previously mentioned there is a tiny population of Asiatic lions in India. Most of the African lions today remain in or around protected areas since much of their previous habitat has been degraded or leads lions to be in direct conflict with people. Lions live in a variety of habitats including open woodland, tropical forest, grassland savannas, floodplains, and deserts. During our lion photo tour we will see these majestic cats in the deserts of the Kalahari as well as the floodplain of the Okavango Delta, both of which are in Botswana.

Palm islands are common in the Okavango Delta, one of the locations we look for lions during our big cats of Africa tour

Lion Feeding Biology

Lions are very opportunistic hunters, quickly shifting into hunting mode when prey presents itself. Even by themselves, a lion is able to kill prey much larger than itself. As a pride they are basically unstoppable, being able to take down every animal except healthy bull elephants. Though their prey options vary greatly, they need a constant supply of  herbivores weighing between 60-550kg (130- 1200lbs). Once lions kill their prey, it is each lion for themselves. Every pride member will devour as much meat as they can, often ripping the carcass into many pieces.

The lions of the okavango delta have successfully taken down giraffes in the past, an unforgettable sight to see

Lion Social Organization

Lions are very social cats and are truly the only feline to form prides. Prides are usually made up of around three to six related females, with a coalition of one to nine males fathering cubs. The largest lion pride, including cubs was reported to have fifty animals in it. Females usually stay with the pride for life. Groups of male lions, called coalitions are usually made up of related individuals, and remain together for life. Males defend their territories and prides from intruding males. These fights can often end in death. If an intruding coalition wins this fight, they will kill or throw out all cubs younger than 12-18 months.

Prides are generally made of related females and their cubs, and are protected by males

Lion Reproduction

Lions can breed at any time of year, but in general time their births when ungulates are having their young. Lion litter size is normally two to four cubs, but can be as many as seven. Females will communally care for cubs, including nursing cubs that are not their own. Nursing generally takes place for the first two months, but may continue for up to eight months. Lion cubs can hunt independently at a year and a half, but will not leave the pride until just before three years old. It can take another tree years for males to be able to compete for their own pride. Male coalitions can be as many as nine males.

At four months old, this lion cub has been enjoying the comfort and security of pride life for over two months.