The lion is the largest and most powerful of all the African big cats, in fact with some males exceeding 250 kg in weight, there is only one species of cat larger – the tiger!
Unlike most other members of the cat family, the lion is a social animal living in a family group known as a ‘pride’. A pride can hold between 16 and 30 members. Lions are apex predators, although they scavenge as opportunity allows. While lions do not typically hunt humans, some have been known to do so. Those that do are given the name 'Man Killer' and are hunted until they are caught and killed by locals.
Sleeping mainly during the day, lions are primarily nocturnal, although bordering on crepuscular in nature. This means that they are active primarily during dawn and dusk.
Some prides included a single male, while others can have up to 6 males. Where a pride has more than one male lion, they are probably litter mates or have established a permanent bond as siblings.
Nowadays, wild lions only remain in remote areas which have yet to be developed by man.
Where do lions live?
Until the late Pleistocene, about 10,000 years ago, the lion was the most widespread large land mammal after humans. In fact, they were once found in most of Africa, across Eurasia from Western Europe to India, and in the Americas from the Yukon to Peru.
Unfortunately today, the lion has become a species at risk, having seen a possibly irreversible population decline of thirty to fifty percent over the past two decades in its African range.
This means that lion populations are now next to untenable outside designated reserves and national parks. Although the cause of the decline is not fully understood, habitat loss and conflicts with humans are currently the greatest causes of concern. Within Africa, the West African lion population is particularly endangered.
At six weeks they begin to accompany their mother to the kill, where they acquire a taste of meat and learn how to hunt. A lion cub cannot tear meat until it has permanent teeth - usually produced once it has reached about one year old, so it continues to rely on its mother for food. Slowly the cubs will master the art of hunting and by 15 months the cubs will be able to catch and kill small prey.
When the cubs reach two years of age, their mother is usually pregnant again and they are forced to leave her. However, some female cubs may be allowed to stay in the pride, but the dominant male will drive out all the male cubs. Less than half the young lion survive their first few weeks alone .
What do Lions eat?
Lionesses usually hunt for the pride which is probably why they are more aggressive by nature. However, the male lion will always take precedence at the kill, dragging the prey in to the shade, then gorging himself before the females and cubs begin to eat.
However, lions are not particularly known for their stamina—for instance, a lioness' heart makes up only 0.57 percent of her body weight (a male's is about 0.45 percent of his body weight), whereas a hyena's heart is close to 1 percent of its body weight. Therefore, they only run fast in short bursts, and need to be close to their prey before starting the attack. They take advantage of factors that reduce visibility; many kills take place near some form of cover or at night. They sneak up to the victim until they reach a distance of around 30 metres (98 ft) or less.
When water is scarce, lions will often lie in wait close to a water hole, knowing that its prey will eventually go there to drink.
When prey is scarce, lions will then eat almost anything, including carrion. They may even attack larger prey such as giraffe, buffalo, and hippopotamus. They are have also been known to take on elephants and rhinoceros, but this is rare due to the danger of injury.
Of course, lions will also attack domestic livestock. In India, cattle contribute significantly to their diet. Lions are also quite capable of killing other predators such as leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, and wild dogs, though unlike most big cats, they will seldom eat the competitors after killing them.
A lion may gorge itself and eat up to 66 lb in one sitting, and if it is unable to consume all the kill it will rest for a few hours before consuming more. An adult lioness requires an average of about 11 lb of meat per day, while a male needs about 15.5 lb.
For related articles click onto the following links:
THE ASIATIC LION
WHAT DOES A LEOPARD EAT?