Lion facts -

Of all the world's big cats, the lions are perhaps the most recognised and revered. Commonly known as the king of the Jungle, lions differs from other member of the panthera genus as they display obvious sexual dimorphism and are the most socially inclined of all wild felids.

Most lion populations live in eastern and southern Africa, however their numbers are now in rapid decline with an estimated 30–50% decline per 20 years in the late half of the 20th century.

Lion facts

Lion facts
1. There may be one species of lion but did you know that it was believed that there were up to 12 subspecies of lion? Unfortunately, some of these subspecies are now extinct and others have been discounted for being too similar. So today we are left with 8 - for now.

2. Lions have been known to breed with tigers (most often the Siberian and Bengal subspecies) to create hybrids called ligers and tigons. They also have been crossed with leopards to produce leopons and jaguars to produce jaglions. The marozi is reputedly a spotted lion or a naturally occurring leopon, while the Congolese Spotted Lion is a complex lion-jaguar-leopard hybrid called a lijagulep. Such hybrids were once commonly bred in zoos, but this is now discouraged due to the emphasis on conserving species and subspecies. Hybrids are still bred in private menageries and in zoos in China.

3. The lion is the tallest (at the shoulder) of all living cats, averaging about 14 cm (5.5 in) taller than the tiger. Behind only the tiger, the lion is the second largest living big cat in length and weight.

Lion facts
4. The longest known lion, at nearly 3.6 m (12 ft) in total length, was a black-maned male shot near Musso, southern Angola in October 1973; the heaviest lion known in the wild was a man-eater shot in 1936 just outside Hectorspruit in eastern Transvaal, South Africa and weighed 313 kg (690 lb).

5. The mane of the adult male lion, unique among cats, is one of the most distinctive characteristics of the species. It makes the lion appear larger, providing an excellent intimidation display. This can also helps to give the lion an advantage during confrontations with other lions and with the species' chief competitor in Africa, the spotted hyena.

6. The white lion is not a distinct subspecies, but a special morph with a genetic condition, leucism that causes paler colouration akin to that of the white tiger; the condition is similar to melanism, which causes black panthers. They are not albinos, having normal pigmentation in the eyes and skin.

7. Lions are the most socially inclined of all wild big cats, most of which remain quite solitary in nature.

Lion facts
8. Lions spend much of their time resting and are inactive for about 20 hours per day.

9. Lionesses do the majority of the hunting for their pride, being smaller, swifter and more agile than the males, and unencumbered by the heavy and conspicuous lions mane, which causes overheating during exertion.

10. The Nile crocodile is the only sympatric predator (besides humans) that can singly threaten the lion. Depending on the size of the crocodile and the lion, either can lose kills or carrion to the other. Lions have been known to kill crocodiles venturing onto land, while the reverse is true for lions entering waterways, as evidenced by the occasional lion claw found in crocodile stomachs.

11. Although adult lions have no natural predators, evidence suggests that the majority die violently from humans or other lions. Lions often inflict serious injuries on each other, either members of different prides encountering each other in territorial disputes, or members of the same pride fighting at a kill.

Roman mosaic of lion
12. Lions have an array of facial expressions and body postures that serve as visual gestures. Their repertoire of vocalizations is also large. Lion sounds include snarling, purring, hissing, coughing, meowing, woofing and roaring. Lions tend to roar in a very characteristic manner, starting with a few deep, long roars that trail off into a series of shorter ones. They most often roar at night; the sound, which can be heard from a distance of 8 kilometres (5.0 miles), is used to advertise the animal's presence. Lions have the loudest roar of any big cat.

13. Lions were kept and bred by Assyrian kings as early as 850 BC, and Alexander the Great was said to have been presented with tame lions by the Malhi of northern India. Later in Roman times, lions were kept by emperors to take part in the gladiator arenas.

Lion baiting illustration
14. The lion will only kill when it is hungry. Prey can usually sense when lions are hunting and grazing animals will often ignore lions at other times – even when they close by.

15. Lion-baiting is a blood sport involving the baiting of lions in combat with other animals - usually dogs. Records of it exist in ancient times through until the seventeenth century. It was finally banned in Vienna by 1800 and England in 1825.

16. Lions were once kept in the Tower of London. However, the presence of lions at the Tower of London was intermittent, being restocked when a monarch or his consort such as Margaret of Anjou the wife of Henry VI either sought or were given such magnificent animals.

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