African Lion

African Lion

Kingdom
Phylum
Subphylum
Class
Order
Suborder
Family
Genus
SPECIES
Panthera leo
Population size
20,000
Life Span
12-25 yrs
TOP SPEED
56 km/h
WEIGHT
120-249 kg
LENGTH
140-250 cm

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.

Distibution

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.

African Lion habitat map

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

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.

Diet and Nutrition

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.

Mating Habits

MATING BEHAVIOR
REPRODUCTION SEASON
Year-round, peak occures during the rainy season
PREGNANCY DURATION
110-119 days
BABY CARRYING
3-6 cubs
INDEPENDENT AGE
2 years
FEMALE NAME
lioness
MALE NAME
lion
BABY NAME
cub

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.

Population

Population threats

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.

Population number

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.

Ecological niche

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.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • When resting, these animals display highly social and friendly behavior, spending their time together and strengthening social bonds between members of the pride: they play together, rubbing against each other's heads as well as sleep in groups.
  • Without their fur, lions and tigers look alike. They are extremely hard to distinguish from each other since their body structure is almost identical. In addition, African lions are relatives of leopards and jaguars.
  • The male lion is the only species of cat, having the identifying mane, which gives the animal majestic appearance, bringing about the title "King of the Beasts".
  • These cats are the second (to tigers) largest living species of feline.
  • Newborn cubs possess brown colored rosettes, which they usually lose when growing up, though some individuals retain pale markings throughout their lives.
  • In a pride, females are responsible for hunting, whereas males have to defend the territory. However, in spite of this allocation of responsibilities, males always eat first.
  • The mane of a male lion gradually darkens during the animal's life, being a good indicator of the lion's age.
  • When walking, heels of lions do not touch the ground due to the structure of their legs.

References

1. African Lion Wikipedia article - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lion
2. African Lion on The IUCN Red List site - http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/15951/0

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