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There is no better place in the world to have a holiday than South Africa. For independent information, advice and facts about going on holiday to South Africa visit www.southafricaholiday.org.uk
Lion in Kruger National Park

SOUTH AFRICA HOLIDAY: LION

Lions (Panthera leo) can be seen in many parks in South Africa. They are unique in that they are the only cats to live in groups (prides). The male lion is also the only cat to have a mane, giving it a regal appearance that has earned it the title 'King of the beasts'.

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Lions vary in colour from nearly white to deep ochre brown but tawny yellow is the commonest shade.
Male lions develop thick woolly manes on the neck and shoulders, signifying maturity. The mane protects the lion during fights with other males. It also differentiates between genders from a distance across savannah plains and is an indicator of fitness. Lions are the only cats to have a mane, suggesting it is linked to their unusual social system. Lions are also the only cats to have a tuft at the end of their tail.
Lions once ranged from north Africa through south west Asia, west into Europe (where they became extinct 2,000 years ago) and east into India. Now their distribution is patchy and they are only found in reserves and national parks south of the Sahara and in the Gir Forest, India.
They are quite adaptable and can be found living on desert fringe, in woodland or open savannah.
The lions of South Africa are a sub-species known as Panthera leo krugeri. The Black-maned lions of the Kalahari desert may also be a separate sub-species (Panthera leo verneyi )
Lions have a head/body length of 170-190cm and a shoulder height 80-110cm. Males are much larger than females and can be 50 per cent heavier (male: 150-225kg, female: 120-150kg). They can live for 12-16 years in the wild and 25 years in captivity.
Lions hunt by ambush. Their main prey includes medium to large-sized mammals such as antelope, buffalo, zebra, giraffe and warthog, but they will also scavenge for food. They can survive for long periods without water, obtaining moisture from prey and plants.
Lions live in groups called prides. Prides can range from 3-30 individuals, but average 4-6. Typically the pride may consist of up to twelve related adult females and their young, and up to six adult males who are probably related to each other but not to the females.
Theories as to why lions live in social groups include increased hunting success, defence of young, maintenance of long-term territories, insurance against individual injury and minimisation of chances of getting no food at all.
Of all the big cats, the lion is the only one which relies extensively on group co-operation. Lionesses tend to stay in the pride they are born in. This makes the group a collection of sisters, aunts, mothers and grandmothers who have grown up together.

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Males are expelled from the pride that they are born in once they reach maturity. They usually form coalitions with other males (often relations) with whom they hunt and scavenge for food.
Females tend to do most of the hunting for the whole pride. They hunt cooperatively, each individual taking on a different role. The larger lionesses tend to ambush prey which the females on the wings chase in her direction. Lions usually hunt at night.
One of the few animals that will attack lions are hyenas, which will kill an injured lion, or if food is scarce, will occasionally attack a healthy one. Lions and hyenas also have been known to kill each other in fights over prey.
South Africa Holiday: Lion hunting
Male lions defend the pride against intruders. They mark key points of the territory with urine and patrol the boundaries regularly, roaring to warn other lions of their presence. Competition between males to head a pride is fierce, and males tend to hold ownership for only 2-3 years. Fights for possession of a pride are vicious and may result in serious injury or death.
Females will tend to come into oestrus simultaneously and thus most of the cubs are born at the same time. Lionesses give birth to 2-5 cubs, after a gestation period of 100-116 days. The cubs are cared for by all the females in the pride, and will suckle from other females as well as from their mother.
Cubs are born with spots, which disappear as they get older, although the spots sometimes persist on their legs and belly. 14-73% of all lion cubs die before they reach the age of two (varies according to location).
A new male in a pride will kill all the cubs which has the effect of bringing the females into oestrus. This means that only he will be the father of the cubs in the pride.
South Africa Holiday: White Lion - a genetic rarity originating in South AfricaThe unusual beauty of the White Lion has captured the imagination of people across the world. This genetic rarity, originating in South Africa, is not due to albinism but to a recessive gene. It is not a separate species from the typical South African lion. The cubs are born almost pure white, but darken to a rich cream colour over the course of their first two years.
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