Lions:  Sociable Simba

(C) Jon S. Bemdt 1992. Used w/ Permission.


In Egypt, apart from running  next to the pharaoh's chariot in war and on hunting expeditions, lions entered the temples and were adored as sacred beasts in the city dedicated to them.  In Leontopolis, priests not only fed them, but accompanied their meals with music and singing.  Stone statues led to their sanctuaries where they were taken care of and protected.  They were often seen in guise of sphinxes that married the body of a lion with a human head in an expression of the union between intellectual capacity and physical strength.  They were also seen in works of the Greeks and Romans.  Not only that but in Urbe, Rome, lions were not merely in their marble, murals, etc....They were alive vigorous, ferocious, and kept in the cages from which they exited for the show in order to combat gladiators (imitation of Hercules who killed the lion of Nemea in one of his 12 labors) or to devour defenseless prisoners (those condemned to death).  Exhibitions featured no single wild beasts, but whole prides of lions to the great disbelief and delight of the people.  Sulla had about 100 lions in the arena.  Pompeii as many as 600 and Julius Caesar about 400.  The lion was tied to Christian symbology and with saints.  The most famous lion in Christianity was the winged lion that represented Saint Mark the Evangelist.  During Medieval times, there were knightly orders dedicated to the lion.  The first may have been founded in 1080 by Lord of Coucy (France).  Even the lioness had its Order created in the 14th century in the Realm of Naples.  They were frequently featured in coats of arms and on maps.


All lions do better if they are part of a pride. These are the only big cats that do live in groups.  There are nomadic lions and lionesses but their chances for survival are very slim.  They have an extremely hard life and making kills is very difficult.  A pride usually is made up of four to twelve adult females, one or two sometimes three males, and about a dozen cubs.  A small pride may be made up of just one female and cubs.  Others are made up of 40 lions. The average is fifteen.  The important thing about the pride is that all the females are related. They are made up of mothers, daughters, aunts, and cousins.  Lionesses are born into the pride, like their mothers and grandmothers before them going back several generations.  They live in harmony together for their entire lives without any sort of hierarchy.  The territory belongs to the females, and according to all the studies so far, remains stable for decades.  The continuity of prides is therefore maintained by the lionesses.  Territories vary in size from between six to 200 square miles.  The  size of the territory of a pride depends on the type of habitat, the availability of fresh water throughout the year, and the abundance of prey,  regardless of the season.  Certain territories must be huge in order to satisfy all these requirements, and may sometimes overlap with the territories of neighboring prides.  In general, the surface area of a pride's territory will not be subjected to equal treatment.  Each pride has preferred areas and it is there that the pride will vehemently defend against intruders.  Males may or may not be related.  They may have been "brothers" who  were thrown out of another pride together (where they had been born into) or they had been born in separate prides and had formed "coalitions" after they had  been thrown out.  Young males are usually thrown out of their birth prides when they are between the ages of two to four years.  These coalitions help them to survive, scavenge, and make kills.  These males eventually become established within a pride.  Taking over a pride can be a slow process.  The new arrivals first settle down at the very outskirts of the territory that has caught their eye.  For several weeks or even longer they are like this, before venturing deeper inside the territory on short incursions.  There will be a power struggle and a fight.  This may result in a flight of the previous resident males who suddenly find new males at ease with the females at the very heart of their territory.   This is a very stressful time for all in the pride when new males are trying to take over the pride.  These males will kill small cubs so the females can have their babies much more quickly.  Usually cubs up to 9 months will be killed if sired by the prior resident males.  Because of this, some females with cubs choose to leave the pride and leave nomadic lives when new males join a pride.  They will stay as far as possible from the pride.  The new males do this  because male tenure over a pride is about 3-4 years or so.  It isn't for a long time.  In order to pass on their genes, they have to have the females give birth to their cubs more quickly.  Very old females are not generally banished from the pride.  They remain full-fledged members up to their death.  This is so even though they cannot bear anymore cubs.......Although true, males have been known to leave a pride of older lionesses to go to one with younger lionesses......Males that do have a pride  have to keep authority over their territory by roaming their areas and marking it by spraying urine, rubbing secretions from glands onto objects,  and by roaring.   Both females and males have to fight or chase off intruders  when they appear on their territories.   Males usually defend their territories against other males while females defend it from strange females or from strange males as well.  A roar of a lion can be carried for 5 miles or more.  This serves as a vocal marker of territory and how they communicate with each other.  Intruders avoid resident males by hearing these roars.

(C) A. Lopez



(C) A. Lopez  1/11


It is very easy to think of male lions as being very lazy and useless in the pride and that females do all the work because they do most of the hunting and the males usually eat first.  This comes from seeing documentaries and countless pictures of these big cats in books. Actually, it is quite the opposite.  The way that prides are set up it is very unique and very important as alluded to you recently.  Females are lighter, slimmer, faster, and more agile then the males.  Their coats help them be very camouflaged out in the bush.  They usually do the hunting for the pride because of this. The males are bigger, have manes, and are more compact then the females.  They are the defenders of the territory of which the whole entire pride depends for their survival.  The males have to sometimes fight very difficult and savage fights if intruders are not chased away  easily.  Many pride males are killed during these battles.  Pride males are constantly patrolling their territory to make sure intruders are not within their territories for very long.  It is a very difficult job indeed.  If a resident male lion lives until very old age, it usually is a nomad by then.  They usually don't die very well and often will starve or a disease will make them very weak and then they die.....   
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(C) Trudie Waltman

              Lions are generally found in grassy plains, savannas, arid woodlands, and semi-desert.  They prefer open plains and seem to adapt to most landscapes from semi-desert areas to mountainous regions up to 14,700 feet above sea level.  They are found across Africa south of the Sahara and south to Botswana.   A small population consisting of a few hundred Asian lions still survive in the Gir forest of western India.  
Lions prefer to have a habitat that includes sufficient protection against the sun and a landscape affording good protection for their cubs.  They also want their territories providing excellent hunting opportunities.  By living in prides, this enables lions to be able to hunt larger prey like the buffalo and zebra.  They also prey on antelope, wildebeest,  giraffe, and warthog.  Lions will often scavenge their food from hyenas or cheetahs as well.  They will also eat smaller animals.  Their hunting style reflects the group life in which they live in.  It is the lionesses that do most of  the killing in a pride.   When hunting together, two or three lionesses of the pride will hide close to a herd, while the others will spread out in a semi-circle to attack from several sides at once driving the animals towards their hidden female companions.  Sometimes the lionesses will approach silently upon a herd of herbivores from the sides as their companions mount a frontal attack on the herd.  One animal will be singled out.  They will use their weight to knock down their prey  and with a bite on the back of the neck or the throat  or by putting its mouth over the victim's muzzle,  it is over. There was even an incident that a pride of lions actually killed  an adult giraffe.  These lions stampeded three giraffes and chased them for over a mile.  One of them tripped and once the giraffe was off its feet,  it was all over.  They also managed to drag the well-over-a-ton animal back some fifty yards not only into but through very thick cover.  These are not the strongest cats individually, but in a group, their strength is incredible!  Like no other cat!  Prides sometimes specialize in a type of prey.  Their hunting style reflects this as seen as those prides that like to hunt buffalo.  These prides prefer to remain hidden and target the slower animals towards the back of the fleeing herd.  They try to panic  these animals and isolate individuals.  This can take a long time and a huge effort.  Often the herd comes to the defense of  a wounded herd member.  Sometimes it can take several hours to kill a buffalo. 
During a single meal, a hungry lioness can eat up to 65 pounds of meat over a period of several hours.  A male can put away 100 pounds.  Fights occur between lions while they are eating whereas they were friendly with each other right before.  Disputes are more likely to arise when they are all feeding on a large kill then a small one.  When it's a large one, all the pride members seem to be there.   Males eat before the females and the lionesses take precedence over the cubs.  Sometimes males lions allow the cubs to eat from the kill with them and they keep away the lionesses.  Although true, if all are famished and there has not been enough to eat, male lions will not allow the cubs to eat.  It is also interesting to mention these cats don't chew their meat like most do.  They bite off a chunk and swallow it especially if there is a chance  it will get taken away.

(C) John Milbank



                    The body of the lion perfectly fits the needs of a predator.  Its jaws are very strong  and very large. The shoulders and forelegs are very powerful as well  and is only matched by  the tiger.   Their paws are massive and powerful, with retractable claws designed to grip prey.  The soft pads of their paws allow them to walk without making the slightest sound.  The tail ends in a tuft of dense black fur that hides a spur-shaped horny growth, up to a half inch in length.  By swishing its tail, the lion tries to drive away flies and its movements also express anger and grumpiness.  Adults usually have a plain, unspotted coat  that is light  to a darker shade of  brown.  The area behind the ears is always black, in sharp contrast with the rest of the body.  Males have a brown mane that tends to grow darker as they age. Some males have black manes that seem to make them more intimidating to other lions  from a distance.  These manes vary in thickness and size. Cubs are marked with a spotted coat that persists on their legs and belly until they fully mature.  White lions do occur and these are not albinos.  Lions are large animals!  Males usually weigh from 330 to 550 pounds.  Females are smaller and weigh 265 to 400 pounds.  The normal length of the male is about  9  feet and the length of a female is  8  feet.

(C) A. Lopez


                    These big cats have no fixed breeding season.  Females in a pride will often come into season and have cubs all at once.  A female lion must generally wait about 18 months between litters.  They have a 102 - 110 day gestation period and one to four cubs weighing about 4 pounds are born.   When a lioness is ready to give birth, she will isolate herself in a sheltered area such as a crevice in the rocks, a densely-overgrown den, high grasses or a dry river bed.   During the first few weeks, their mother will always be alert and very protective towards her litter.  She will change their hiding place every 3 to 4 days.  By six weeks they can walk around and they get their first taste of meat.  She introduces them to the pride at this time as well.  A lot of times, this doesn't work out and they perish before they are old enough to be introduced to the pride.  For those that do survive and get introduced, their mothers will not allow the others to get close to them.  She will threaten the others with her teeth.  After this, they partake fully in the life of the adults and cubs within the pride.  There are many positive things about living  in a  group.  One of them is that the cubs can suckle from any lioness in the group.  Also if their mother dies, there will be a lioness who will take care of them.   Although true, it has been recently found that a mother will give her own cubs priority. 
Cubs begin to follow their mother in quests for food after 3 months.  They do not  take  part actively until after they are weaned from their mothers at about 6 to 7 months.  The cubs usually stay with their mother for two years.  Even at age of two years, it is very difficult for a lion to make a kill on its own.  Life for a cub is very harsh.  The survival rate of cubs varies greatly depending on whether the mother is a nomad or lives in a pride.  During a good year, a pride female can manage to ensure that close to half her young survive beyond one year of age.  Nomads generally lose close to 90 percent of their cubs during the first year of life.  When born in prides, it is much better if cubs are born in synchrony with the other females.  The cubs will then be able to be nursed by another if their mother is out hunting.   Also, if there are very small cubs and much older cubs, those that are older will eat first and not allow the younger to eat.  Some starve simply because they don't get enough to eat.  It is more harsh for the male cubs because they are evicted when they approach adulthood.  At two years, meeting with the males of the pride are still friendly, but not for long.  When it is time for them to leave, the resident males get very aggressive and even some of the females encourage the young males to leave.   

(C) Gerald & Buff Corsi



These two powerful predators seem to have animosity towards each other.  They will often steal each other's meals but it goes further then that....I have seen documentaries that show male lions killing the leaders of  hyena clans.  I have also seen a hyena (on film) watch a male lion scent mark a grass area and then she will defiantly scent  mark the same area and continue doing this and follow the male lion.  The reasons for this animosity  are just coming to possibly be understood, but their clashes are very violent and often leads to death.  Although true, if a lion kills a hyena, they will not eat them.
It may be that these two predators are old hereditary enemies.  Some researchers speculate that when the saber-toothed felines walked the earth, hyenas were huge and sociable.  The two species had clear-cut distinct roles.  The cats were large predators who killed large prey using their huge teeth which while very efficient in hunting, were rather clumsy in eating.  These teeth possibly got caught  in the flesh and bones of the carcass.  As a result, prehistoric cats left large amounts of food on their prey probably over 50 percent.  There was plenty left for the hyenas.  The saber-tooth and the large hyenas became extinct and more efficient smaller toothed predators (cats and hyenas) came into being.  Fights erupted between the two predators over the carcasses and the more efficient cat left less meat for the hyena.  These hyenas also hunted for themselves more and encroached more and more into the cats territories.  The hyena  packs became larger to put up a better front with the lions.  Over a long, long period of time, the two species fight over the same prey or the same carcasses. 
Lions will steal the prey hunted by cheetahs and leopards if they get a chance.  Cheetahs hunt during the day which makes these chances less but they still eat their food as fast as possible once they bring it down.  The leopard brings the food up a tree which doesn't give the lions a lot of chances to get it.  Although true, some lionesses have been able to climb up a tree and get the meat.  Lions will not tolerate these smaller cats on their territories due to they are in competition for their prey and are a danger to their cubs.  They will run them off often and will kill them if they catch them.  They will also kill their cubs if they get the chance.  Leopards will kill lion cubs if they are able while other cats won't.

There was one case when a young leopard decided to spend a night in a tree that was nearby a ditch where some lion cubs were hidden.  He did not detect they were there for they remained very quiet.  The lions came back and noted that a leopard was in a nearby tree.  They stayed there and took shifts on keeping the leopard up there for three days.  This was clearly about territory rights and the lions were not about to leave.  By this time, the leopard was very hungry and started crying and moaning.....The park rangers decided to intervene and by using their vehicles, came between the trees and the large cats.  The leopard did not hesitate and came down from the tree and leapt into the bushes.  His lack of experience led him to this situation and this is why a lot of young nomadic leopards, etc. don't make it into adulthood.


Lumpkin, Susan and Seidensticker, John. 1991. Great Cats Majestic Creatures of the Wild. Rodale Press, Pa. Pg. 32 and pages 80 and 82.

Sleeper, Barbara. 1995. Wild Cats of the World. Crown Publishers, NY. Pg 60.

Baur, Erwin.2003. The Last Big Cats. Voyageur Press Inc, MN.

Huot-Denis, Christine & Michael. 2002. The Art of Being  a Lion. White Star Pub. Pgs 18, 19, 25, 27, 59, 82, , 84, 85, 86,128,131, 190, 191, 193 & 198.


(C) A. Lopez

(C)  Both  A.  Lopez

(C) John Milbank

(C) A. Lopez

(C) A. Lopez



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