African lion is a big cat with short, tawny colored fur and white under parts. The long tail ends with a black tuft. The lions display sexual dimorphism with males, having their distinctive manes, ranging in color 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. The mane makes 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 grayish 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, African lions are distributed across sub-Saharan region of Africa. They prefer savanna grasslands with scattered Acacia trees, where they can hide from the sun.
These animals can be either nocturnal, being active at night, or crepuscular, showing increased activity at dusk and before sunset. Lions spend the greater part of the day (up to 20 hours) resting. These animals 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 a 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.
Lions are carnivorous animals. These predators primarily hunt on zebras, antelopes, gazelles, deer, buffalos, young giraffes, warthogs, wildebeest, young elephants, less frequently – on hares and birds. These animals can also consume flesh of dead animals, occasionally taking away carrion from hyenas and wild dogs.
Lions have polygynous mating system, meaning that a male lion can mate with a number of lionesses. They breed throughout the year with peak period, occurring at 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 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 first two years of their lives. Males are sexually mature at 5 years old while females reach maturity earlier, at 2.5 - 3 years old.
African 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 species is sharply decreasing, estimated to 20,000 individuals throughout Africa. On the IUCN Red List, the African Lion 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 numbers of these species’ populations. Otherwise, these herbivores could out-compete other animals of their range, leading to complete extinction of these species and thus destructing biodiversity of the ecosystem.