Lion animal<<<< Back to wild animals
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Mammalia
- Order: Carnivora
- Family: Felidae
- SubFamily: Pantherinae
- Genus: Panthera
- Conservation status: Vulnerable
- Length: 1.4 - 2 m
- Height: 1.2 m
- Weight: 120kg - 250kg (260lbs - 550lbs)
- Diet: Carnivore
- Speed: 80 km/h (50 mph)
- Predators: none, Human
- Sexual Maturity: 2 - 3 years
- Gestation Period: around 100 days
- Population: less than 20.000
- Lifespan: 10 - 20 years
- Litter size: 2-3
- Distinctive Feature: males have a long and thick hairy mane
Also known as the king of the beasts, the lion (Panthera leo), belongs to the Carnivora order, Felidae family. Although 10,000 years ago the lion was, after the man, the most widespread large land mammal, today the Asian lion is endangered and declared a vulnerable species.
Lions are a symbol that appears frequently in the royal and chivalry families heraldry. They even appear in China's art, though they never lived there. No other animal has received so much attention in art and literature. In the bible it is mentioned 130 times. In Stone Age art, especially in cave paintings, drawings representing lions were frequently met.
In 2015 the IUCN stated that the Lion population is inferred to have undergone a reduction of approximately 42% over the past 21 years (approximately three Lion generations, 1993-2014) and estimated that fewer than 20.000 lions remain.
Lions are predators exclusively carnivorous, very strong, that hunt large mammals, among their favorites are: wildebeest, impala antilopes, zebras, buffalos, wild boars etc. Females usually hunt in groups, sneaking till they get close to their prey. Most often, few females will encircle the herd from different points, then will suddenly and violently attack the nearest individual.
Although their teeth are very sharp and of an impressive size (up to 8cm in length), the prey is most often killed by strangulation. A lion can eat in a single meal even 30kg of meat. The small prey is consumed on the spot, and the larger one is often dragged on the groups territory.
The lion is the second largest feline after the tiger. Its coat color ranges from yellow to reddish or even brown-ocher. The belly fur is lighter , and the tuft at the tip of the tail is black. The cubs have brown spots on the fur, similar to those of leopards. There are also white lions, the light fur color is due to a recessive gene.
Their sizes may vary depending on the area they live in, but on average, the females weigh 120 to 180 kg, and the males 150 to 230 kg. Their shoulder height is approximately 98 cm in females and 120 cm in males. The body length (including head) varies between 140 and 175 cm in females and 170 to 250cm in males. Sexual dimorphism is very obvious: males are the only ones with a mane, around the neck and chest.
The mane varies both in terms of size and color and its characteristics are influenced by the degree of sexual maturity, climate, genetic baggage of the specimen, and the secretion of testosterone. Thus, a healthy lion has a rich, dark mane. Although there have been cases of females who have lived for 20 years, in the wild their age rarely exceeds 8 years. In captivity they can live up to 20 years and even more.
- Panthera leo persica - Asiatic Lion
- Panthera leo leo - Barbary Lion
- Panthera leo senegalensis - West African lion
- Panthera leo azandica - Congo Lion
- Panthera leo nubica - East African or Masai lion
- Panthera leo bleyenberghi - Southwest African or Katanga lion
- Panthera leo krugeri - southeast African or Transvaal lion
- Panthera leo melanochaita - Cape lion
The lions are the only felines whose sexual dimorphism is visually obvious. The lion is the only feline that has the tip of its tail covered with a tuft of hair. The role of this tuft is still unknown. It is absent at birth and begins to develop around the age of 5 months. The male lion is the only feline that has a mane. Among the felines, the lion has the strongest roar.
Although it is called king of the jungle, the lion prefers savannahs and plains, but can also be found in bushes and forests. Acacia trees scattered through the savannahs allow the lion to retreat in the shade. Male lions spend a great deal of time resting, inactive 20 hours a day, sometimes 24. They can sleep all day and after waking up they will eat large quantities of food. Meanwhile the females do all the work, hunting. In terms of social organization they can be divided into two categories: residents and nomads.
The lions are very territorial and both male and female will defend their territory fiercely. Females in the group are those who hunt usually, the males will patrol the group's territory. Communication within a group of lions is diverse, including vocalizations (bellowing, roaring, grunts, whistling etc.), but also touching, licking, rubbing of some body parts or body postures. The roar of the lion is very strong and can be heard from a distance of 8km.The roar is delivered especially at night and serves to signal the presence of the animal in a certain region.
Lionesses reach their sexual maturity around the age of 3-4 years. Lions don't have a specific mating season and can reproduce several times a year. Females can mate with several males, and during mating (which may take several days) a couple can copulate 20-40 times, leaving aside any activity (including feeding). Gestation lasts about 110 days, in the end , the female gives birth to 1-4 cubs, blind and almost totally helpless.
The female builds the nest in a remote and protected area, away from the group, and the cubs are introduced into the group at the age of six weeks. Cubs weaning occurs at the age of 6-7 months. Often, females in a group will synchronize their estrus periods to give birth all about the same time. Thus, they will take care of the cubs together and they will have more chances of survival.
Lion populations are now rapidly decreasing, the cause of this phenomenon is not entirely understood. However it seems that the most important factor is the man and his actions that result in the species' habitats shrinking. The authorities have drawn up various programs to protect this extraordinary animal, focusing in particular on the African species. Captivity reproduction is tried out, to help reintroduce the species in its original habitat.
A serious problem encountered by researchers is the safeguarding of the genetic diversity of captive lion populations. The same problem also exists in the wild, because lion populations from West Africa are isolated from Central African ones and thus the genes cannot refresh.
The average life span of a feline bred in captivity rarely exceeds 18 to 20 years, but Arjun has seen 29 summers.
Did you know that:
The female lion deals with hunting in over 90% of cases, while the male lion prefers to sleep or rest.
The average age of a lion is 35 years.