Lions are the second largest cat, the largest being the tiger. The lion is a mammal which belongs to the Felidae Family, they were once found throughout Africa, Asia and Europe but are presently only found in Africa and in the GIR forest in India. Lions are different than other “Big Cats” in that they are the only cats that live in groups, also known as prides. A pride usually consists of 15 lions, which include mostly females and their young and about 2 to 3 unrelated males.
Lions are majestically known for their strength and beauty, they are called “The King of the Jungle” but strangely enough they are never known to be in any forested area, they mostly live in grassy plains, savannas and open woodlands. Male lions have a distinct mane which makes them have an intimidating look, so they appear larger and stronger to their prey. The thicker and bigger their mane the more attractive they are to the female lions.
Their coats vary in colour but they mainly sport a light yellow-brown coat. Male lions weigh up to 500 pounds and females range between 260 – 330 pounds. At the end of their tail is a hairy tuft, lions are the only cats to have this. The tuft conceals a spine which is about 5 millimetres in length, this spine forms the final sections of the tail bone fused together. There is no known function of the tuft and spine, these are just distinctive characteristics that lions possess. The tuft develops at around 5 months old and is easily identifiable at 7 months.
Life span for lions in the wild: 10 to 14 years
In captivity: 20 years and more.
Lions are carnivores so there diet consists of only meat, they hunt mostly wildebeest, zebras, giraffes, buffalos and gazelles. Occasionally a lion may hunt young elephants, rhinoceros and hippopotamus.
They are very sociable cats and spend most of their time in groups rubbing their heads together and playing. They sleep for up to 20 hours a day, reason being to conserve energy, lack of prey or to avoid the heat during the day. Lions are nocturnal or crepuscular animals meaning they are more active at night or before sunset. Female lions do all the hunting and they bring back their kill to the pride where the male lion has to eat first. A prey is killed usually by strangulation or by a deadly swipe of the paw.
Lions breed throughout the year, however, an adult female will not produce her next litter of cubs until her cubs are at least 2 years old. If for some reason the entire litter doesn’t survive she will mate again soon after.
The gestation period for a female lion is between 100 and 120 days. A litter of 3-6 cubs is then produced. Cubs are kept secluded and are only introduced to the pride when they are 4 to 6 weeks old. Female lions raise their young cubs together and they also suckle cubs other than their own.
Lion infants deaths are at a high, less than 50% of new born cubs will survive the first year of life. The main cause being starvation due to the fact that the pride may only kill an animal once every 3 to 5 days and in the hierarchy of a lion pride, the male lion feeds first, then the female lion and finally the cubs. However, it is more likely for a cubs to survive when born into a pride, than to a lioness on her own.
African Lions are becoming extinct and it is estimated that there are only 34,000 lions left in Africa, which is half of the amount that existed 30 years ago. The biggest threat is the loss of habitat and loss of prey due to hunting and meat trade.
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