Status: Protected by CITES (Convention on Trade in Endangered Species).
Size: Length 4.5 to 8 ft., 3.5 to 4 ft height to shoulder, weight 275 – 550 lbs.
Characteristics: Nocturnal, social.
Area: Africa, India.
Offspring: Two to four cubs every two years.
· Lions once lived throughout Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
· Unlike many other big cats, lions live and hunt together in groups.
· Male lions are the only cats with manes.
· Captive lions who’ve been castrated lose their manes.
· Like other cats, lions are capable tree-climbers.
Related female lions (sisters, mothers, aunts, cousins) live in groups called prides, bonding together to raise their cubs. Female cubs born into a pride will stay with it for life, although sometimes prides that grow too large in number will split into smaller groups. Groups of males, called coalitions, often join up with the prides, to mate and also to feed. The females hunt together in groups, do most of the hunting. The males eat first from the meat killed by the females, before the females and then the cubs get their turn. Every few years, the males are challenged by another group of males, and they fight fiercely to keep the intruders out, because males can’t exist long without the benefit of a pride. If the new group wins the fight, they may try to kill off the existing cubs of the defeated males. The females defend their cubs vigorously, and when several of them band together to fight off one male, they manage to save some of the cubs, but in a one-on-one competition, the females are smaller than the males and don’t stand a chance. When a new group of males has been established with the females, relations are peaceful, with the males, females and cubs living comfortably together, displaying signs of affection and playfulness. Lions hunt other mammals, including zebras, wildebeests, buffalo, apes, gazelles, giraffes and warthogs.
Although lions are found in both Asia and the sub-Saharan grasslands and semi-arid plains of Africa, they’re built slightly different from each other. Male African lions have fuller manes than Asian lions, as well as a slightly differently shaped skull. Asian lions have an extra skin flap on the abdomen, absent in African lions. Lions became extinct in Greece by 100 AD and in Europe almost 2,000 years ago. In southwest Asia they disappeared from most countries there, sometime over the last 150 years. They live in open woodlands or thick bush, where sufficient cover provides opportunity for hunting.
During mating season, a female will mate with all of the coalition males. The pregnancy lasts just over three months, and the female goes away to a secluded spot to give birth, to one to four spotted cubs. She keeps the cubs away from the group until they’re approximately two months old. By three months, the cubs’ spots will have faded. Because many of the females in the pride give birth at the same time, they share the duties of taking care of each other’s cubs, including nursing them. Although they may continue nursing until 8 months of age, cubs typically begin to eat meat when they’re 2 months old and will begin to hunt just before they reach the age of one. Female cubs grow up and stay within the pride, but males are expelled when they reach two or three. Male lions usually don’t provide any care for the cubs, but form boundaries around the pride’s territory and defend it from intruders. Adult males live 10 to 12 years at the most in the wild, while females live up to 16 years. In captivity, where lions don’t need to hunt or fight and get veterinary care, they can live more than 25 years.