The lion is one of the big cats in the genus Panthera and a member of the family Felidae. The commonly used term African lion collectively denotes the several subspecies in Africa.
Lions are the second largest living cats after tigers. Male lions are unique among the cat species for their thick mane of brown or black hair encircling their head and neck. Both male and female lions roar—a sound heard as far as 8 kilometers away.
- Scientific name: Panthera leo
- Lifespan: 10 – 14 years (Adult, In the wild)
- Conservation status: Vulnerable (Population decreasing) Encyclopedia of Life
- Trophic level: Carnivorous Encyclopedia of Life
- Height: Male: 1.2 m (Adult, At Shoulder), Female: 1.1 m (Adult, At Shoulder)
- Weight 330 to 500+ lb.
- Habitat Grassy plains and open woodlands
- Diet Carnivorous
- Gestation About 105 days
- Predators Humans
To understand the origin and population history of lions, scientists sequenced DNA from both living lions and museum-preserved lions, some of which are now extinct, from different geographical areas. They found that recent lion lineages began to diverge in the Late Pleistocene and that the modern lion populations last shared a most recent common ancestor around 124,000 years ago.
Gathering information on the demographic history of a species is important because it can help to shed light on evolutionary processes. Not only that, but the results collected could also be applied to conservation efforts through predictions of how the animal may respond to certain pressures such as changes in the environment. Obtaining sequence data necessary to make such inferences for the lion, however, has been problematic since numerous hurdles exist. First, poor bone preservation in tropical areas has meant that the fossil record for lions is incomplete. Second, since the lion population has been artificially diminished by poaching, the remaining lions likely are not a sufficiently representative sample. Therefore, the scientists in this study used historically collected samples from museum-preserved lions to fill in the gaps.
By sequencing mitochondrial DNA from not only museum-preserved specimens from different geographical areas but also lions currently living in Asia and across Africa, the scientists worked out how different subspecies of lion evolved. They estimated that recent lion lineages started to diverge in the Late Pleistocene and that the most recent common ancestor of modern lions lived around 124,000 years ago. They also supported previous findings that suggested the modern lion, Panthera leo, first appeared in Eastern-Southern Africa.
During the Middle, Pleistocene lions were likely widespread across Africa, but periods of high humidity caused tropical rainforest expansion across equatorial Africa, and the Sahara became savannah. This meant that southern and eastern African lion populations would have become isolated from western and northern populations. An increase in aridity also occurred, which caused the Sahara to expand and separated lions residing in North Africa and West Africa. During this time, lions in the west began to expand their range into Central Africa which was becoming more inhabitable. The data also suggested that during the end-Pleistocene, on two separate occasions lions entered Asia from North Africa.
Findings such as these could have implications for the conservation of lions living today. Asian lions are endangered, with fewer than 400 existing today. It is also estimated that there are as few as 400-800 West African lions and 900 Central African lions; there is concern that these lions may face extinction. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. The results found that the now thought to be extinct Barbary lion from North Africa is closely related to the extant Asian lion from India. This means that should efforts be made to restore lions to North Africa, closely-related Indian lions could potentially be reintroduced to this area.
Lions face numerous threats including climate change, loss of habitat due to agriculture and human population growth, and also poaching for products such as meat and bone. Over the last 20 years, it is thought that the African lion population has reduced by about one-third. Hopefully, these findings may aid conservation planning of these animals in order to prevent their further decline.
Lions live in social groups called pride. When food is abundant, the entire pride eats together and sometimes allows hyenas to eat along with them. However, when food is limited, the male lions in the pride eat first. Afterward, the lionesses eat, and finally the cubs are allowed a chance at the kill. Lions sometimes gorge themselves when they eat, with a full-grown lion eating over 60 pounds of meat at one time. If they become full before a kill is consumed, they rest for a few hours and then eat more. To survive, an adult lion needs 10 to 15 pounds of meat per day.
Lions usually hunt together in groups, although sometimes males hunt alone. Typically, male lions watch the young while lionesses hunt. The lionesses use stealth to circle their prey. Because they do not have much stamina, they creep up close before bursting from cover and overcoming it. Although they have sharp teeth, they usually kill their prey by strangulation.
Unlike the other large cats, lions have no apparent pattern body markings. Their fur is tan and is very short, with the exception of the males’ mane. Their tan fur allows them to blend in with the sand and grass that exists where the African lion does most of its hunting. Only males have a mane; the mane is a status symbol. The male lion uses its mane to show off to the females. The mane of a lion becomes larger and darker as the lion ages and reaches its sexual maturity. A lion with a longer and darker mane is usually found to be more desirable to the females. The male lion is considerably larger than the female, weighing in between 350 and 550 pounds. The females are smaller, averaging between 270 and 400 pounds. Lions average around 9 feet long from nose to tail.
The canines of a lion (left) which are long,sharp and slightly recurved, are excellent tools for grasping and wounding prey, while the sharp premolars are effective in tearing away chunks of flesh. The molars are rudimentary because their food is swallowed in chunks, unchewed. The skull has the large surface for the insertion of the powerful jaw muscles.
What do Lions eat in the Zoo?
Zoo lions are given mostly beef, sometimes including beef bones. Other types of flesh are also fed, for example, horse meat, but this is much less common. And in a pinch, keepers will occasionally feed these big cats a nice, plump visitor.
One of the most useful lion adaptations is the ability to gorge huge quantities of flesh during the relatively brief periods when a kill is available. This helps to tide it over during what may be long stretches without access to food. A lion eats as much as 40 kg in a single meal an incredible amount. For comparison, an average human eats only about four pounds in a whole day.
Southern African lions live in groups of around 30 individuals (prides). These prides usually break down into smaller groups of a male or two, around 5 females and their offspring. The male is very lazy and almost never participates in hunting. His main job is to defend the pride against anything that could bring harm and/or danger to them. During the mating season, males become more agro and will not hesitate to attack anything. During this time, the male hormones drive the younger males to seek out a pride of their own. They do this by Defeating and/or killing the male in another pride.
Southern African Lions are known to be especially lazy. Like most cats, they are nocturnal and sleep most of the day, in fact around 21 hours a day! Most of their hunting occurs late in the day as the sun is preparing to set. Lions have an advantage at this time, because they have a reflective lens in the eye that will reflect light back into the eye so they can see well in the dark.
Lion cub’s life cycle
Birth weight 1, 5 kilograms
Eyes open at 3 to 11 days
Weaning Starts at 10 weeks; completed at 10 months
Hunting skills achieved At 2 years old
Fully grown 3-4 years
- All the lactating females in a pride suckle cubs showing no favoritism for their own offspring.
- The reason for this is that each lioness is enhancing her own genes’ success by helping to raise her sisters’ offspring.
- The cubs start to eat meat at about three months and are weaned at about six months.
- Lionesses stay within the pride all their lives but male lions either leave of their own accord or are driven off by the pride males at two to three years of age.
When do the cubs start hunting by themselves?
- Cubs stay with their mothers for about two years, by which stage they have joined the pride’s hunting trips.
- After one to two years of nomadic life these young males drive out the resident males of a pride and take over the females.
- If a small group of males leave together they are able to hunt as a group and stand a better chance of being able to take over a pride.
- Females prefer their pride to have a large male coalition because it reduces the number of cubs lost to infanticide at take-overs.
- The displaced male lions seldom live long since they no longer have lionesses to hunt for them.
- Lionesses prefer their pride to be controlled by a large coalition of males whose strength in numbers will give them a longer tenure.
What habitat do lions prefer?
African lions have no specific habitat preference so they can be encountered anywhere, except in forests.
African lion habitats include –
- Open plains,
- Thick bush and
- Semi desert.
The hunting techniques of lions are more successful in long grass and thick bush.
The will try to stalk the prey to within 20 meters using the cover they have available.
Lion Pregnant Process
Lions are ready for reproduction when they are 2 to 3 years old. A male lion of this age goes in search of a pride of his own. A female lion is in estrus, the period when female mammals are sexually receptive and fertile, for 4 to 8 days. If the mating does not result in pregnancy, the estrus cycle repeats after approximately 90 days. The male lion and the female lion are constantly together during the mating period, and it is typical for both lions to refrain from eating the entire time
Facts About Lions
- African lions are the most social of all big cats and live together in groups or “prides.” A pride consists of about 15 lions.
- Male lions defend the pride’s territory while females do most of the hunting. Despite this, the males eat first.
- These majestic cats are threatened by habitat loss. The lion is listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
- The lion was once found throughout Africa, Asia and Europe but now exists only in Africa with one exception. The last remaining Asiatic lions are found in Sasan-Gir National Park in India, which was primarily created to protect the species. Currently, there are approximately 350-400 lions in the park.
- A lion’s roar can be heard from as far as 5 miles away.
- A lion can run for short distances at 50 mph and leap as far as 36 feet.
- Even though the lion is sometimes referred to as the “king of the jungle,” it actually only lives in grasslands and plains. The expression may have come from an incorrect association between Africa and jungles or may refer to a less literal meaning of the word jungle.
- A good gauge of a male lion’s age is the darkness of his mane. The darker the mane, the older the lion.
- A lion’s heels don’t touch the ground when it walks.
- A lion may sleep up to 20 hours a day.
Types of Lions
Popularly known as the Indian lion or the Persian lion, this species is widely found in the Gir Forest National Park in the state of Gujarat, India. It is slightly smaller than the African lion and has a less developed mane. The male species weighs between 160 to 190 kg, while the female weighs between 110 to 120 kg. Compared to the African lion, it has a lesser genetic variation.
It is also called the Senegal lion, and is native to West Africa, which is why it is called the West African lion. Its size is somewhat similar to the lions native to Central Africa, but is smaller than the ones from Southern Africa. The total population of this species is believed to be less than 1000 overall, and is considered to be among the most endangered species.
White lions belong to the same species as the P. l. krugeri (Southeast African or Transvaal lion). They are white-colored due to a color mutation, a recessive trait. They are extremely rare and are found only in zoos, sanctuaries, and wildlife reserves. They are said to be native to the Timbavati region of South Africa. Their color may range from blond to off-white to white. They are found in the Lory Park Zoo in South Africa, the Belgrade Zoo in Serbia, the Karachi Zoo in Pakistan, the Kingdom of Zion in New Zealand,
East African or Masai lion
This East African species is described as being from ‘Nubia’, and has longer legs and less curvier backs than other species. They are generally between 8 to 10 feet tall, and have a variety of mane styles. That is to say, they have great tufts of manes, or their manes look like they have been combed backwards. Fortunately, this species hasn’t been classified as endangered yet, and is found in parts of Uganda and Kenya and the Tanga Region.
Southeast African or Transvaal lion
It is native to southeast Africa, and is called ‘Transvaal lion’ after the ‘Transvaal’ region of South Africa. It has a well-developed, full mane, and is black-maned as well. The males weigh between 150 to 250 kg, while the females weigh between 110 to 180 kg. It is also found in the Kruger National Park and the Kalahari region.
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