Panthera leo (Lion)

leeu [Afrikaans]; Lwe [German]; lion d' Afrique [French]; simba [Swahili]; isilwane, indau, ingonyama,ibhubezi [isiN debele]; ingonyama, ibhubesi [isiXhosa]; ingonyama, ibhubesi, imbube [isiZulu]; tau [Sepedi] [Sesotho] [Setswana] [Lozi]; shumba [Shona]; libhubesi, ingwenyama [siSwati]; nghala, n'shumba [Xitsonga]; ndau [Tshivenda]; andavu [Yei]; Xamm [Nama] [Damara]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Synapsida (mammal-like reptiles) > Therapsida > Theriodontia >  Cynodontia > Mammalia (mammals) > Placentalia (placental mammals) > Laurasiatheria > Ferungulata > Ferae > Carnivora > Family: Felidae (cats) > Subfamily: Pantherinae

Panthera leo (Lion)

Lion female feeding on Plains Zebra carcass. [photo Callie de Wet ]

Panthera leo (Lion) Panthera leo (Lion)
Black-maned Kalahari lion, Kgalagadi National Park, South Africa. [photo Coke Smith ] Lion female, Kruger National Park, South Africa. [photo Callie de Wet ]

One of Africa’s “Big Five”. The largest of the African cats and the most social member of the cat family living in prides of 3-30 individuals.  Lionesses give birth to their cubs under cover away from the pride and will only return to the pride when the cubs are 6-8 weeks old. Male lions will often kill any existing cubs in the pride after they successfully depose the dominant male or male group. This results in the females being able to produce this new male's cubs sooner. Prey varies greatly - from mice through to young elephants.

Identification

Male and females are easy to tell apart as sexual dimorphism is marked. The males are identified by a mane of long hair, females are also much smaller. The mane varies from tawny-brown to black in colour, and extends from the sides of the face to the neck, shoulders and chest.

Size

Male: Body Length 2.5 -3.3 m; height at shoulder 1.2 m; weight range 150 - 225 kg.
Female: Body Length 2.3 – 2.7 m; height at shoulder 1.0 m; weight range 110 – 152 kg.

Dental Formula

I C P M = 30

Distribution and habitat

Occur mainly in Africa south of the Sahara but was once more widespread than this, including around the Mediterranean, the Middle East and parts of Asia. Amazingly, there is still a last surviving population of the Asiatic lion in Northwest India where it is found in and around the Gir Forest. Up until about 10 000 years ago, lions were even found in the Americas. 

In the southern African subregion lions are restricted to northern and eastern regions. They tolerate a wide range of habitats from desert fringe to woodland or open savanna. They once occured in the Cape and these lions had darker mains and previously were distinguished as a separate subspecies although genetic evidence suggests that such subspecies status is not justified. 

General behaviour

The most social member of the cat family living in prides of 3-30 individuals. Pride sizes vary depending on the environmental conditions. A pride consists of 1 or more dominant males, a dominant lioness and other sub ordinate females, with associated sub-adults and cubs. More than one male can be associated with a pride but they form a coalition and are usually siblings. They mark their territory and challenge any intruders. Male lions will often kill any existing cubs in the pride after they successfully depose the dominant male or male group. This results in the females being able to produce their cubs sooner. Young males are driven from the pride and exist as bachelor groups until they can successfully challenge for a pride of their own.

Lions are active during the cooler parts of the day and during the night. The roaring of lions during the night is one of the characteristics of the African bush. These roars can be heard for several kilometers and are a signal that the territory is occupied.

Hunting and food

Although known as an active hunter, lions are great opportunists and will take advantage of any food in the immediate vicinity. They will chase other predators off their kills, this includes cheetah, leopard and hyena, and they also scavenge. The females undertake most of the hunting, although the pride male will always feed first.

Prey can include mice to young elephants as well as a wide variety of none mammalian prey.

Panthera leo (Lion)

Female lion at Buffalo kill, Kruger National Park, South Africa. [photo Arno Meintjes ]

Reproduction

The gestation period lasts about 110 days. Lionesses give birth to their cubs under cover away from the pride and will only return to the pride when the cubs are 6-8 weeks old. As a lioness will allow any pride cub to suckle they will delay bringing young cubs to the pride if cubs older than 3 months are present. Older cubs will not allow the young cubs to suckle. Cubs remain with their mother for approximately 2 years.

Life span

Up to 60 years has been recorded.

Conservation

Lions are now largely restricted to the major conservation areas, and are still hunted outside these protected reserves. While they rarely attack humans unless provoked, they are still considered a dangerous animal and for this reason their presence is not tolerated. They conflict with stock farmers in certain areas. .Their conservation status is listed as vulnerable and they are CITES listed.

Links

Text by Denise Hamerton


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