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King of the Jungle “Lion'”

Description

King of the Jungle “Lion” : The lion (Panthera leo) is a muscular, deep-chested cat with a short, rounded head, a reduced neck and round ears. Its fur varies in colour from light buff to silvery grey, yellowish red and dark brown. The colours of the under parts are generally lighter. A new-born lion has dark spots, which fade as the cub reaches adulthood, although faint spots often may still be seen on the legs and under parts. Males have broader heads and a prominent mane that grows downwards and backwards covering most of the head, neck, shoulders and chest. The mane is typically brownish and tinged with yellow, rust and black hairs. The tuft is absent at birth and develops at around 5 12 months of age.  The lion’s skull is very similar to that of the tiger, although the frontal region is usually more depressed and flattened and has a slightly shorter postorbital region and broader nasal openings than those of the tiger.

Mane

The male lion’s mane is the most recognizable feature of the species and it starts growing when lions are about a year old. Mane colour varies and darkens with age; research shows its colour and size are influenced by environmental factors such as average ambient temperature. The presence, absence, colour and size of the mane are associated with genetic precondition, sexual maturity, climate and testosterone production; the rule of thumb is that a darker, fuller mane indicates a healthier animal.

Habitat

African lions live in scattered populations across Sub-Saharan Africa. The lion prefers grassy plains and savannahs, scrub bordering rivers and open woodlands with bushes. It is absent from rainforest and rarely enters closed forest.

Behavior and ecology

Lions spend much of their time resting; they are inactive for about twenty hours per day. Although lions can be active at any time, their activity generally peaks after dusk with a period of socializing, grooming and defecating. Intermittent bursts of activity continue until dawn, when hunting most often takes place. They spend an average of two hours a day walking and fifty minutes eating.

Group organization

The lion is the most social of all wild felid species, living in groups of related individuals with their offspring. Such a group is called a “pride” and groups of male lions are called “coalitions” and membership changes only with the births and deaths of lionesses. The average pride consists of around 15 lions, including several adult females and up to four males and their cubs of both sexes. Male cubs are excluded from their maternal pride when they reach maturity at around two or three years of age.  Males spend years in a nomadic phase before gaining residence in a pride. Female lions stay closer to their natal pride and in an area they are more closely related to each other than male lions in the same area. The area occupied by a pride is called a “pride area” whereas that occupied by a nomad is a “range”. Members of the pride tend to regularly play the same role in hunts and hone their skills. Both males and females defend the pride against intruders, but the male lion is better-suited for this purpose due to its stockier, more powerful build. 

Hunting and diet

The lion’s prey consists mainly of mammals particularly ungulates weighing 190–550 kg (420–1,210 lb) with a preference for plain zebra, gemsbok, blue wildebeest, African buffalo and giraffe.  Lions also hunt common warthog depending on availability, although the species is below the preferred weight range. Lions kill other predators such as leopards, cheetahs and spotted hyenas but seldom consume them. Young lions first display stalking behaviour at around three months of age, although they do not participate in hunting until they are almost a year old and begin to hunt effectively when nearing the age of two. Lions typically consume prey at the location of the hunt but sometimes drag large prey into cover. They tend to squabble over kills, particularly the males. Cubs suffer most when food is scarce but otherwise all pride members eat their fill, including old and crippled lions, which can live on leftovers. Lions gorge themselves and eat up to 30 kg (66 lb) in one session; if it is unable to consume the entire kill, it rests for a few hours before continuing to eat.

Reproduction and life cycle

Most lionesses reproduce by the time they are four years of age. The average gestation period is around 110 days and the female gives birth to a litter of between one and four cubs in a secluded den, which may be a thicket, a reed-bed, a cave, or some other sheltered area, usually away from the pride. The Lion cubs are born blind and their eyes open around seven days after birth. The cubs begin to crawl a day or two after birth and walking around three weeks of age. To avoid a buildup of scent attracting the attention of predators, the lioness moves her cubs to a new den site several times a month, carrying them one-by-one by the nape of the neck and usually, the mother does not integrate herself and her cubs back into the pride until the cubs are six to eight weeks old. When first introduced to the rest of the pride, lion cubs lack confidence when confronted with adults other than their mother but later begin to immerse themselves in the pride life, however, playing among themselves or attempting to initiate play with the adults. Male lions reach maturity at about three years of age and at four to five years are capable of challenging and displacing adult males associated with another pride. Both male and female lions may be ousted from prides to become nomads, although most females usually remain with their birth pride. When a new male lion takes over a pride, adolescents both male and female may be evicted.

Health

Although adult lions have no natural predators, evidence suggests most die violently from attacks by humans or other lions. Lions often inflict serious injuries on members of other prides they encounter in territorial disputes or members of the home pride when fighting at a kill. Crippled lions and cubs may fall victim to hyenas and leopards or be trampled by buffalo or elephants.  Ticks commonly infest the ears, neck and groin regions of lions.

Communication

When resting, lion socialization occurs through a number of behaviors; the animal’s expressive movements are highly developed. The most common peaceful, tactile gestures are head rubbing and social licking. Head rubbing-nuzzling the forehead, face and neck against another lion, appears to be a form of greeting and is seen often after an animal has been apart from others or after a fight or confrontation. Males tend to rub other males, while cubs and females rub females.  Lions also use chemical and visual marking; males will spray and scrape plots of ground and objects within the territory. Most lion vocalizations are variations of growling, snarling, meowing and roaring. Roaring is used to advertise its presence and lions most often roar at night, a sound that can be heard from a distance of 8 kilometres (5.0 mi).

Man-eating

One well-publicized case is the Tsavo maneaters; in 1898, 28 officially recorded railway workers building the Kenya-Uganda Railway were taken by lions over nine months during the construction of a bridge in Kenya. The hunter who killed the lions wrote a book detailing the animals’ predatory behaviour; they were larger than normal and lacked manes, and one seemed to suffer from tooth decay. Sick or injured animals may be more prone to man-eating but the behaviour is not unusual, nor necessarily aberrant.

Cultural significance

The lion is one of the most widely recognized animal symbols in human culture. It has been extensively depicted in sculptures and paintings, on national flags, and in contemporary films and literature. It appeared as a symbol for strength and nobility in cultures across Europe, Asia and Africa, despite incidents of attacks on people. The lion has been depicted as “king of the jungle” and “king of beasts”, and thus became a popular symbol for royalty and stateliness. In some cultures, the lion symbolizes power and royalty. In Swahili language, the lion is known as simba which also means “aggressive”, “king” and “strong”. In parts of West Africa, lions symbolized the top class of their social hierarchies while in some East African traditions, the lion is the symbol of laziness.

LION FACTS

Lions do not need to drink everyday but needs to eat

Lions can go up to four days without drinking water, but they need to eat every day. Adult female lions need to eat about 11 pounds of meat each day, while adult males eat 16 pounds or more every day. And while lions primarily prey on large herbivores such as zebra, wildebeest and buffalo, they have been known to prey on smaller animals as well.

Lions are fantastic hunters

A lion has many physical characteristics that make it a superb hunter. The vision of a lion, for example, is roughly six times more sensitive to light than a human’s. This gives lions a distinct advantage when hunting at night. Having round pupils also allows more light to filter into the eye at night, giving the lion better night vision. However, larger felines such as lions generally hunt larger prey, so there is unlikely to be a significant advantage to having slit pupils. A lion’s claws are retractable, allowing for the excellent control when it needs to go in for a kill. When fully extended, a lion’s claws can be up to 1½ inches in length. Lions can also reach speeds of up to 50 miles per hour in short bursts and jump up to 36 feet in length. Lions mostly target large-sized ungulates (buffalo, wildebeest, zebra and gemsbok). However, they don’t stop there, lions are known to take on larger mammals such as young elephants and hippos and will also scavenge and chase off other predators such as hyenas or wild dogs from their kills. Hunting takes place mostly from dusk until dawn, and during the cooler hours of the day. Most of the time, the females will hunt, and then the males (who patrol the territory and protect the pride) will eat first. The cubs compete for what remains once the adults finish.

Lions do not live in jungles

Known colloquially as the “king of the jungle”, lions do not actually live in jungles. Instead, their primary habitats consist of Africa’s grasslands and plains though don’t expect to find them in rainforests.

Lions communicate in many ways

A lion’s roar can be heard up to 8kms away. The roar is a warning to other animals and rival prides to stay clear of the lion’s domain. But beyond the iconic roar, lions communicate with one another as many cats do: through mews and purrs. Lions also rub their heads on one another as an act of bonding and to spread the “family scent”. This scent allows the lions of a specific pride to know who is a member of their family and who is not if a dispute arises between prides. They can make a variety of calls which include roars, grunts, moans, growls, snarls, meows, purrs, hums, puffs and woofs.

Lions are social

Lions are the most sociable member of the cat family and can be found living in prides of up to 40 individuals. The size of the pride depends on the area and prey availability. These prides include multiple adult males, a dozen or more related females and the pride’s cubs. In general, the more members a pride has, the stronger it is relative to rival prides. The pride’s females also prefer to have more males in the pride as this helps to ensure the survival of their cubs. Female lions do most of the hunting, while males are responsible for protecting the pride. Male lions may get all of the attention with their majestic manes, but the females do the majority of the work when it comes to hunting. Anywhere from 85-90% of the hunting is done by the females in a given pride. The males, meanwhile, protect both the pride and the pride’s territory from rival prides and other predators but they usually get to eat first!

Female lions raise cubs together

Lions mate every two years and female lions give birth to a litter of 2-3 cubs after a four-month pregnancy. Females in the same pride tend to give birth around the same time, which allows multiple litters to be raised together. This has the added advantage of allowing different cubs to nurse with other lion mothers, making it easier for the pride to manage the cubs in those crucial early months.

Lion cubs have two other names

Though they are usually referred to as “cubs”, lion babies have two other names: “whelps” and “lionets”.

Lions are the second largest cat on earth

After tigers, lions are the largest wild cats on the planet. Male lions can grow up to 10 feet in length and weigh up to 550 pounds, while female lions can grow to a length of 9 feet and weigh up to 395 pounds.

Lions have different Colour variations

The colour of a lion’s coat varies from region to region, and within populations. However, it is found that lions that live in areas where it is either cooler or have higher humidity levels tend to have darker fur – such as the desert-adapted lions in Namibia and the black-maned lions of the Kalahari. You also get white lions, but these are not true albinos but are instead genetic variants with reduced pigmentation.

Lions have got no fixed Breeding

There is no fixed breeding season for lions, though pride females will often synchronize the timing of breeding, especially after a pride takeover by new dominant males, to ensure maximum food and maternal care available to cubs. Lions will mate roughly every thirty minutes (each mating lasting for around 20 seconds) for three days… nonstop! This is to ensure fertilization during the female’s oestrus period so that the cubs will be born as soon as possible, allowing for longer protection under the pride male. A litter of 1-4 cubs are born after 110 days of gestation. Cubs suckle regularly for the first 6-7 months, and then the frequency will decline after that. Cubs remain with their mother for two years or longer – at 11 months they begin hunting.

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