Scientific Name: Panthera leo leo
Lions may rest or sleep about 20 hours each day to conserve their energy.
Lions are perfect hunting machines. They have great binocular vision to judge distances. In bright light, the pupils constrict to round points so the lion can hunt during the day without being blinded by the sun. At night, their hunting ability is enhanced because the pupils of their eyes let in more light by dilating to three times the size of a human’s pupils. Keen hearing and sense of smell enable lions to detect hidden prey with ease.
STATUS: African lions are considered vulnerable to extinction in the wild. This situation is mainly due to persecution by humans, over-hunting or over-harvesting, and habitat destruction.
HABITAT: Lions roam habitats just south of the Sahara Desert down to South Africa. They have adapted to live in the open grasslands (or savannas), arid woodlands, and semi-desert regions of the continent.
DIET: Lions are carnivores and, therefore, eat meat. Their diet includes prey animals such as impala, wildebeest, zebra, buffalo, rodents, birds, fish, and even ostrich eggs.
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTIC: The light, golden-brown coats of these big cats provide excellent camouflage in the tall, dry grasses of the African savannas. A male lion’s beautiful mane may be the most striking example of physical differences that can exist between males and females of a species. The thick shaggy mane may be blond to black and develops at about two years old. The mane probably evolved to protect the male’s throat and neck during battles with other lions. The mane is fully grown by the time the lion reaches maturity at about five years of age. Lionesses are fully mature by about four years. Both sexes have large and powerful bodies with strong hind limbs for running. Adult males average 400-500 pounds and stand about four feet tall at the shoulder. Lionesses are noticeably smaller. Males may live up to 12 years and females up to 18 years or more.
The Social Cat
Often we think of cats as “loners.” However, this is not the case for lions. They typically live in prides of a few adult males with several related females and their young. Lions are highly social and are the only cats that hunt cooperatively on a regular basis. The lionesses do most of this cooperative hunting. For instance, one lioness may chase prey into a ravine where two other females wait to ambush it. Because lionesses are smaller and faster than large males with their notable manes, they are not as easily spotted and can stalk prey more successfully. Still, in spite of all her efforts, at the dinner table, adult males get the “lion’s share,” eating their fill first which may be up to 25% of their own weight. Next, the females and juveniles eat, and finally the cubs eat last. Pride size varies depending on resources available and terrain conditions, however, the average pride consists of about 15 cats.
Prides of lions establish territories of eight to 155 square miles by roaring, urine marking, and patrolling their area. Their roars back and forth help them maintain contact with each other, strengthen bonds between members, and warn rivals wandering into their territory. Large, dominant, adult males defend the pride against rival males.