The African Lion
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African Lion (Linnaeus 1758) - Panthera leo
Order : Carnivora
Family : Felidae
Subfamily : Pantherinae
Genre : Panthera
Height : 55 to 82 inches
Weight : 260 to 550 pounds
Lifespan : 7 to 12 years (for males) - 14 to 20 years (for females)
IUCN Conservation Status : Vulnerable
Description of the African lion.
The lion is probably one of the best known felines along with the tiger. The male is distinguished by his abundant mane, which has earned him the name "King of the Animals". The animal's body is long and stocky, and rests on thick and powerful legs. The relatively short coat is usually sand, buff, yellowish or ochre in colour. The underside is lighter, almost white in females 🦁. The head is broad and has round ears with a black underside. For males, the mane is a darker shade of dark brown, fawn or black. A long, dark mane is a sign of good health and fighting strength. It seems that the size of the mane is closely related to the nutrition and hormonal status of the feline. The tail ends in a long black brush. As in tigers, some specimens have a whitish coat.
Habitat of the African lion.
In historical times, the lion has evolved over the largest territory ever given to a feline. It lived on almost the entire African continent from the Atlas Mountains to the Cape Province, from Southern Europe, the Near and Middle East, to India. Nowadays he is only found in sub-Saharan Africa and in the Gir Reserve in the state of Gujarat in India. The feline mainly frequents the savannas (Kenya, Tanzania...), but also occupies dry forests and semi-arid areas. It was thought that it could not survive in deserts, but there is a population in Namibia. It is totally absent from tropical forest areas.
Behaviour of the African lion.
Unlike other wild animals that are solitary outside breeding periods, lions live in groups that form permanent social units. These bands consist of a dominant male, several related females, and young males. Fawns communicate with each other through sounds ranging from purring to roaring and through body attitudes that determine mood, from affection to anger.
The lion spends most of its time inactive and hunts only in the dark or cool of the morning. The vast majority of catches are taken by lionesses. The males are heavier and slower and are less efficient. Stalking is practiced on the lookout when a feline hunts alone, and by encirclement when they act in a group. The male only participates for the most imposing preys : buffaloes, pre-adult elephants 🥩... Usually their role is to ensure the protection of the troop of other lions. The muscular power of the wild animals is impressive. To catch its prey, a lioness is able to leap almost 12 meters long and 4 meters high.
Male and female lions.
Reproduction of the African lion.
There is no breeding season per se. The male ensures the fertility of a female by using his vomeronasal organ placed on the palate, under the lower surface of the nose, which allows him to locate pheromones. To do so, he raises his upper lips and opens his mouth. This behaviour is called flehmen. The female's estrus lasts only four days, the animals sometimes mate up to fifty times a day. Only the dominant male can reproduce. After a gestation period of about four months, the lioness gives birth to one to four cubs that are born blind.
During the first six weeks they are suckled by their mother who keeps them in a hiding place, away from the other members of the group ❌. The danger is constant as the cubs may be exposed to hyena attacks when the mother is away hunting. A little later, the lioness brings her cubs into the group, which generally accepts them without difficulty. From then on, the cubs no longer suckle only their own mother, but also other females. Their upbringing is therefore the responsibility of the whole group. The cubs are weaned after six months and stay with their mother for another two years. The animals reach their sexual maturity between three and four years of age.
Group of African lions.
Diet of the African lion.
The lion's diet is essentially meaty. Its main prey are large Bovidae (eland, cubs, wildebeest, hartebeest, kudu...), but it also hunts buffalo, zebras, giraffes, warthogs and occasionally elephants and pre-adult hippos and even crocodiles 🐊. During the seasonal migrations of large mammals, when the usual prey runs out, the lion falls back on smaller and more difficult to capture herbivores: impalas, damalisques, gazelles and other dwarf antelopes. On its territory, the lion competes with other predators such as the spotted hyena. Their relationships are unique in their complexity and intensity. But there is also competition with cheetahs (with whom it competes for prey and on whom it preys heavily by killing its young), leopards and even Nile crocodiles.
Lion and his prey.
Threats to the African lion.
The main causes of the decline of the lions are the hunting that has been carried out against them since antiquity, the reduction of their traditional habitat transformed into crops and the scarcity of game. The dispersal of areas where lions roam also leads to a loss of genetic diversity. In the last twenty years, the number of lions has fallen by 30-50%. Only 30,000 individuals are thought to remain in the wild, and in Africa, the feline has disappeared from more than 80% of its former territory (Africa, Southern Europe, Near and Middle East). It is only listed in Appendix II of CITES, which regulates international trade in wild animals.
Did you know that about lions ?
The lion has always been considered a strong and courageous animal, to which many men have associated their name (Richard the Lionheart, General Massoud nicknamed Lion of Panshir, Emperor Haile Selassie called the Lion Conqueror of the Tribe of Judah...), and has played an important role in mythology and heraldry. Although he was only present in the Indian peninsula, he is represented in China and a traditional dance is dedicated to him for the Chinese New Year in order to scare away demons and bring good luck. But this idyllic image is sometimes tarnished by deviant behaviour.
Young male lion.
At the end of the 19th century, two male lions, distinguished by the absence of mane, spread terror on the construction site of the British Imperial East African Company, which was building a bridge across the Tsavo River in present-day Kenya, killing and devouring many workers. Lieutenant Colonel John Henry Patterson was put in charge of the protection of the construction site and, after many vicissitudes, managed to eliminate the man-eaters. The number of victims is not known precisely because the railway company's records only mention the death of 28 workers and do not include the Natives. Rumour has it that nearly 140 people were killed in the space of a few weeks. This figure is most likely overestimated, and recent research estimates the number of victims at 35. The bodies of the two man-eating lions are on display at the Field Museum in Chicago.
Axelle - Lion Republic writer.