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The male lion must fight to lead a pride

Feeding, Breeding and Killing Habits of Lions (African Lion)

They may not be the most giant animal in the African savannas; however, the habits of lions make them the ‘King of the jungle’. The lion is not the biggest cat, either; that title belongs to the tigers. 

Conservation of lions in Africa
Despite their title, lions habitat is savannas and grasslands (Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay)

Historically, lions were present across Africa, Europe, and Asia. Currently, most lions occur in Africa, with a small population of Asiatic lions present in India. This article focusses on the African lion.

Lions have more pronounced sexual dimorphism as compared to the other cats. Meaning it is easy to distinguish between mature male and female lionesses. The male lions are not only bigger, but they have manes that darken with age.

Scientific name:Panthera leo
Weight: 150-250kg (Male); 120-150 kg (Female) 
Height: 100-120 cm 
Length: up to 350cm for male and 275cm for female 
Gestation period: 109 days 
Life expectancy: 10-18 years in the wild, but can live up to 30 years in captivity
IUCN Status: Vulnerable 

General habits of lions

The mane is one of the features that gives the species is majestic look. Some of the general habits of lions include:

  • Lions are social cats. They live in groups called the pride. Lions in a pride would hunt and live together. A pride could have as few as four lions or as many as forty lions. Most prides have between ten and twenty lions.
  • Each pride has its territory which can be small where prey is abundant or as large as 400 square kilometres where prey is scarce. Territories have a core area that is fiercely defended compared to fringe areas where a pride can allow other lions to roam.
  • Another majestic habit of lion is roaring. Both male and female lions roar can be heard over 8 kilometres away.
  • Roaring is one way which lions mark their territories. Another way is using scent markings. Males would urinate on bushes and the ground to demarcate their territories. They also defecate or rub against bushes to leave their scents.
  • Apart from roars, lions have other vocalizations including purrs, growls, and even meows.
  • Lions appear affectionate as they spend time licking, head rubbing and purring while resting.

Killing and Feeding habits of lions

The lion kills a variety of prey ranging from rodents to cape buffaloes. Heck, they could even take down an injured elephant or giraffes. One advantage of living in prides is the ability to take on large prey. Although they are powerful, lions often steal prey from other predators including hyenas, cheetahs, even jackals.

Hunting, like roaring, is done at either dawn or dusk. Typically, a lion would stalk prey and run it down in a short rapid burst. The cat then jumps on the prey’s neck until it is suffocated. Alternatively, lions would trip the hind legs of its pursuit, and quickly grab the neck of the prey when it falls.

Nevertheless, most hunts conducted by lions fail. Partly because they tire after short distances and they disregard the direction of the wind. As such, the prey usually picks up the lion scent and escape.

Most hunts in a pride are conducted by lionesses. Regardless, male lions are adept hunters. A male lion can eat 35 kilograms of meat in a single kill and rest for around a week before hunting again. In places where prey is readily available, lions would rest for up to 22 hours, and hunt for only 2 hours.

Other animals could also steal kills from lions. A cackle of hyenas could chase one or a few lions from their kill. But it is a high-risk game. One bite or paw stroke from a lion would kill a hyena. After all, an adult male lion is twice the size of a hyena and up to four times its weight.

Habits of lions

Breeding habits of lions

The male and female lions are polygamous and would breed throughout the year. However, females are restricted to one or two males in their pride during mating. The copulation process is intense as the pair mate up to 50 times in a day, after every 20 minutes.  This copulation process happens for 3-4 consecutive days when the female is on heat. The prolonged copulation seeks to stimulate ovulation and secures the paternity of the offspring as it excludes other males. Like the other cats, lions’ penises have backward-pointing spines that seek to stimulate the lions to ovulate while mating.

The gestation period for lions is about 3.5-4 months. A lioness would give birth to between 1 and 6 cubs, but the range of 2-4 is more common.

The cubs are born blind with dark spots which disappear as they grow. Cubs will accompany their mothers by three months and are weaned at six months. They can participate in kills when they are about one year old. However, they cannot survive in the wild by themselves until they are two years.

Male cubs are expelled from the pride at about three years of age. Similarly, some female cubs are expelled while others are retained in the pride when they attain three years. Expelled females may immediately join other prides or become nomads to join prides later. However, some male lions remain nomads for life as they are unable to take over prides. Mating opportunities for nomads are scarce.

Although males mature at three years, they will need to be at least five years before attempting to take over a pride.

When a male lion or a group of males takes over a pride, they would immediately kill the cubs in the pride. The purpose of the infanticide is to shorten the time needed for the lionesses to mate again. However, lionesses would attempt to protect their cubs from the infanticide by hiding the cubs or directly fighting with the lions. Generally, lionesses have a higher chance of defending older cubs as they were leaving the pride anyways.

Over 80% of lions’ cub die from various reasons, including infanticide. When there is a scarce food supply, lionesses could also abandon their young. Other predators such as hyenas, leopards, and wild dogs could also kill the cubs. In the Masai Mara, I have seen buffaloes trample lion cubs to death.

Threats faced by lions

Most conservation organizations estimate that about 20,000 lions are left in the wild.

Hunted for its Legacy 

The majestic nature of the cat means that the lion is a prized hunting trophy. As such, game hunters feel accomplished by killing lions. Moreover, in some African cultures, such as the Maasais, killing lions is considered a sign of bravery. Such beliefs contribute to the declining number of lions.

The retaliatory killing of lions

Lions also attack livestock, especially cattle and sheep. When they do, community members may poison or spear lions in retaliation. Lions are particularly targeted in retaliation killing because of their apparent ‘contempt’. Many carnivores would flee and leave the carcass when they realize human pursuit. Not the king of the jungle. Sometimes lions would devour a livestock carcass when humans are watching.

The good news is that many conservation organizations in Africa have a compensation scheme in the event herders lose their livestock to lions or other predators. Consequently, retaliation attacks reduce in areas with compensation schemes.

Loss of habitat

As human being population continues to grow, so is development. The growth of agriculture, settlement, and roads means that we continue to encroach to lions’ habitats.

What Can you do to save lions in Africa?

You can seek to support the conservation efforts in Africa’s protected areas. This support could be achieved in a variety of ways, including:

  • Donating to organizations working with protecting lions in Africa
  • Spreading the word by supporting bloggers such as ourselves through sharing content
  • Not participating in the illegal wildlife trade

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