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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
The 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