Lions: Sociable Simba
(C) Jon S. Bemdt 1992. Used w/ Permission.
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 five to six adult females, one or two sometimes three males, and 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. 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. From there they have to keep authority over their territory by roaming their areas and marking it by spraying urine, rubbing secretions from glands on 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.
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 all 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 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. 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.
HABITAT/ DISTRIBUTION / HUNTING STYLE/ DIET:
Lions are generally found in grassy plains, savannas, arid woodlands, and semi-desert. 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. 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 all the killing in a pride. They will encircle an unsuspecting herd of zebras or antelope and all will be in the position of ambush (crawled onto their bellies). One female will then break cover and chase the herd toward her waiting pride members. They will quickly target the young, sick, or old. 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! It is also interesting to mention these cats don't chew their meat like most do. They bite off a chunk and swallow it.
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. Adults usually have a plain, unspotted coat that is light to a darker shade of brown. 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.
These big cats have no fixed breeding season. Females in a pride will often come into season and have cubs all at once. They have a 110 day gestation period and one to four cubs are born. Usually the female with cubs leaves the pride to have her babies when she has them later then the other females. She usually stays away for about six weeks and then introduces them to the pride. A lot of times, this doesn't work out and they perish before they are old enough to be introduced to 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. 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 of its own. Life for a cub is very harsh indeed. When a new male lion or lions take over a pride, they will kill all young cubs to make sure the females will give birth to cubs related to him in the very near future. Also, cubs are the last to eat from a kill and even then they have to fight for it. 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. Some don't survive on their own but some do.
HYENAS AND LIONS:
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 is unknown but their clashes are very violent and often leads to death.
RESOURCES I HAVE USED AND ALL RIGHTS RESERVED AND ACKNOWLEDGED. ALL TEXT COPYRIGHT MATERIAL. NONPROFIT EDUCATIONAL SITE ONLY:
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.
(C) A. Lopez
(C) A. Lopez
(C) John Milbank
(C) A. Lopez
(C) A. Lopez
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