Common Name(s): Lion
Scientific Name: Panthera Leo
Weight: 300-500 pounds
Head/Body: 96-108 inches
Tail: 24-36 inches
Gestation: – 110 days
Status: 1 subspecies endangered
Estimated World Population: No information available
|The lion stands out from the other big cats, not only in its distinctive appearance but also in being the only felid that lives in organized social groups. In appearance, the lion is a powerfully built, muscular cat. The fur is short and generally uniform in color, ranging from grey/buff to reddish brown in coloration with the exception of the undersides which are often white, especially in females. The back of the ears and tip of the tail are dark brown or black. However, the most distinctive feature of the male lion is its mane, a ruff of thick, long fur. The color of the mane varies from a light brown to almost black and covers the sides of the face, neck and in some animals extends to the abdomen. The adolescent male begins to grow its mane at about 18 months and it continues to grow until the cat reaches about five years of age – throughout this period it is common for the mane to darken. A fully developed male lion can grow up to 10 feet in body length and is surpassed in size only by the larger specie of tiger.The lion is unusual amongst the cat species in that it lives in an organized social groups called prides. The pride can consist of as many as thirty to forty lions, the majority of which are females and their offspring along with a small number of resident males. It is common for the females within the pride to be closely related and this family bonding is often extended through communal suckling and caring of the young within the group. The territory of the pride is fixed and varies in size depending on the availability and distribution of prey. In larger territories, which can be as much as 200 square miles, prides are often split into smaller social groupings.
Hunting is also a shared process – the individual lion is relatively inefficient at hunting, and cannot sustain high-speed pursuit for long periods of time. Lionesses hunt by ambush, with the majority of the hunting group chasing the prey toward individuals lying in wait who are then able to give chase over short distances before leaping on the selected animal for the kill. The lions prey consists mainly of medium to large herd animals such as antelope, gazelle and wildebeest. Once the prey is taken, it is common for the males of the pride to eat first, even though they take no part in the hunting process. The females are next to feed followed by the cubs. It is common, when prey is scarce, that the young will often starve as a result of being last in the pecking order for food.
Incoming males provide another threat to the young cubs of the pride. When a male lion reaches maturity, it leaves its natural pride and goes in search of another pride for which it must fight for the right to join. Older or injured males are ousted by the young incoming male, who then takes up residence in the pride, often killing the cubs of the beaten male, thus ensuring that its own future offspring will have greater chance of survival.
The lion is found in parts of eastern and southern Africa and is commonly protected in reserves, although hunting is still common. The Asiatic Lion, once found throughout India, the Middle East and Southern Asia, is today, only to be found in the Gir Forest National Park in Gujarat, eastern India, where the population is estimated to be in the region of 290. The male of the Asian species has a less prominent mane compared to that of the African male and both sexes display a long fold of skin that runs the length of the belly which is not found on the African species. In general, the lion is listed in CITES Appendix 2 although certain sub-species of the African lion are endangered and the Barbary lion and Cape lion have become extinct.