Intriguing Life of Lions

1. African lions are the largest of the African cats (second largest in the family Felidae, with the tiger being the largest). Males can reach a shoulder height of around 1.2 metres and weigh around 150 – 225 kg (av. 189kg). Females are around 1 metre in shoulder height, and weigh between 110-152kg (av. 126kg).

2. African lions have a wide habitat, and can live almost everywhere – from open woodlands, thick bush, scrub and grass complexes, even penetrating deep into deserts along watercourses – though don’t expect to find them in rainforests. Globally, lions exist in Asia and in sub-Saharan Africa, though history shows that a long time ago lions also inhabited parts of southwest Asia and north Africa.

3. The colour of a lion’s coat varies from region to region, and within populations. However, it is found that lions that live in areas where it is either cooler or have higher humidity levels tend to have darker fur – such as the desert-adapted lions in Namibia and the black-maned lions of the Kalahari. You also get white lions, but these are not true albinos but are rather genetic variants with strongly reduced pigmentation.

4. Speaking of desert-adapted lions. These lions are known for their majestic size and ability to survive the harsh desert environment. They have longer legs and leaner bodies than ‘regular’ lions, and are built for endurance. Because prey is sparse in the desert regions, lions have to search far and wide for food, and live off smaller prey, such as antelope, mice and birds. The lions have a stronger resistance to thirst and can go for up to two weeks without drinking water (they rely on their prey’s blood for moisture).

5. When it comes to claws, lions have four on their back feet, but five on the front where the dew claw is found. The dew claw does not show in their spoor (foot print), and acts like a thumb that is used to hold down prey.

6. Upon closer inspection you will see that lions have round pupils, instead of vertical slits that are found in domestic cats. Having pupils that are vertical slits are handy for cats that are on the prowl for small prey and need to be able to focus clearly on the small stuff. However, larger felines such as lions generally hunt larger prey, so there is unlikely to be a significant advantage to having slit pupils. Having round pupils also allows more light to filter into the eye at night, giving the lion better night vision.

7. On the subject of eyes, lion cubs are born with blue eyes that change to amber or brown when around the age of two to three months.

8. Lions are the most sociable member of the cat family and can be found living in prides of up to 25 individuals. The size of the pride depends on the area and prey availability. A pride will usually consist of 1-4 adult males, several adult females (one dominant), and a number of sub-adults and cubs. All pride’s lionesses are related. Female lions typically stay in the pride as they grow up whereas young males eventually leave the pride and attempt to establish their own prides. Young male lions ousted from prides often wander large distances in search of other ousted males, to form coalitions and attempt to take over a group headed by another male(s). New pride males will often kill the cubs in the pride and then mate with the females, to ensure that their genes prevail in the pride. Read about why male lions form coalitions.