The lion is a big wild cat with short, tawny-coloured fur and white underparts. The long tail ends with a black tuft. The lions display sexual dimorphism with males, having their distinctive manes, ranging in colour from black to blond. They develop their manes at the age of 3 years. Meanwhile, manes of those, living in open areas, are notably fuller.
In this post, Pritish Kumar Halder takes a brief look at the wild cat -“The Lion in Africa”
The mane makes the lion look much larger than it is, helping the animal intimidate the opponent during confrontations with other lions as well the Spotted Hyena, which is the animal’s primary competitor throughout its range. Young lions have a greyish coat, covered with brown markings, which then disappear by the age of 3 months. However, lions in eastern Africa tend to retain these spots on their stomach.
Presently, lions are distributed across the sub-Saharan region of Africa and in Gir Forest in Gujarat state of India . They prefer grassy plains and savannas, scrub bordering rivers, and open woodlands with bushes. They rarely enter closed forests. Remnant populations can also be found in the tropical moist forests in West Africa and montane forests in East Africa.
Habits and Lifestyle
Lions can be active at any time of the day but their activity generally peaks after dusk with a period of socializing and grooming. Most hunting often takes place at dusk. Apart from that African lions spend much of their time resting. They rest in order to save energy, in the absence of prey, or to escape the midday heat. African lions are highly social animals, gathering in groups or prides, which include up to 3 male lions and multiple lionesses with their young. Prides are defended by males, who patrol and mark the territory.
However, there’s harsh competition between males for the territory and position in the pride. In a case, if another male overcomes the leading male of the pride, he usually kills all cubs, sired by the previous male. Meanwhile, males do not tend to hunt due to their slow speed and eye-catching appearance. Instead, hunting is left to females of the pride, who hunt in groups, cooperating with each other during their hunting trips. The females are excellent hunters: they are faster and more agile than males, able to hunt down animals that are much bigger and faster than them.
Diet and Nutrition
Lions are generalist hypercarnivores. They primarily hunt on zebras, antelopes, gazelles, deer, buffalos, young giraffes, warthogs, wildebeest, young elephants, less frequently – on hares and birds. Lions can also scavenge on carrion when the opportunity arises; they scavenge animals dead from natural causes such as disease or those that were killed by other predators such as hyenas.
Lions have a polygynous mating system, meaning that a male lion can mate with a number of lionesses. They breed throughout the year with the peak period, occurring during the rainy season. The gestation period lasts from 110 to 119 days, yielding 3-6 cubs on average. The female gives birth in a hidden, solitary nursery. Reaching the age of 4-6 weeks, the cubs join the pride. Usually, all females of the pride feed and care for the young; when a mother female leaves the pride to hunt, another lactating female will feed her cubs. Weaning occurs at the age of 6-7 months, though the cubs typically stay close to their mother during the first two years of their lives. Males become Population
Lions have long been hunted out of fear and as trophies. However, hunting is still one of the major factors, threatening these animals’ population across Africa. Currently, they suffer from loss of their range due to growing human settlements and alteration of their habitat into agricultural lands. Meanwhile, those, living nearby human settlements, are exposed to diseases, spread by domestic dogs.
Nowadays, the overall population of the lion is sharply decreasing, estimated to 20,000 individuals throughout Africa. On the IUCN Red List, the species is classified as Vulnerable.
Lions are an irreplaceable link in the ecosystem of their range. Feeding upon herbivorous animals such as zebras or buffaloes, they control the numbers of these species’ populations. Otherwise, these herbivores could out-compete other animals of their range, leading to the complete extinction of these species and thus destructing the biodiversity of the ecosystem. Reproductively mature at 5 years old while females reach maturity earlier, at 2.5-3 years of age.