Roar, If You Like Lions
Eating, roaring, and sleeping are what lions do most of the time. Lions, “Panthera Leo” are also commonly called, “King of the Beasts”. In Africa lions were seen as chiefs. The claws and teeth of any lion killed were placed in the grave of a chief. This ensured that the chief’s spirit would come back as lion, protect the land and control the crops and animals fertility.
How big are these cats?
Males are generally larger than females, but most lions stand from
3–3 ½ feet tall, are 5-7 feet in length and weigh between 300 and 500 pounds.
Where do they live?
The native regions of lions are the grasslands of Asia and the savannas of Africa.
In Asia, the “Gir Forest” of Northern India one could find approximately 300 lions remaining. These lions are a subset of African species, which have more genetic variation than the Asiatic lions. The male’s home range is from 40-55square miles; whereas the female’s home range is from 15-30 square miles. The type of diet available in these ranges is most commonly small ungulates.
In Africa, one may find around 20,000 lions remaining in the Serengeti. The African lion’s home range varies from 7-155 miles. The diet available in this range is much larger and can include buffalo, zebra and wildebeest. The appearance differences between African and Asiatic lions are that the African’s have larger manes and lack an abdominal or “belly” fold.
What are their eating habits?
One lion can consume up to 88 pounds in one meal. Each adult lion requires 11 pounds of meat per day. Unlike many other Felids, they are able to capture larger prey, because they hunt in groups. Even with that advantage, the lion’s hunt success is still only successful in one out of every five attempts, so they scavenge as much as they can. What they eat includes: warthogs, antelope, buffalo, zebras, gazelles and even small elephants and rhinos. In one year, one lion consumes the equivalent of 30 medium sized prey animals or 10-20 large prey animals.
Lions are nocturnal, most of their hunting and social behavior is primarily from dusk to dawn. They enjoy almost an entire full day’s rest of 18-20 hours of sleep per day. When they are awake, the lion’s speed ranges from a run at 35 mph for short distances (500 meters) to a 3-4 mph walk.
The females or lionesses of the household have the trying of roles hunter, defender, property owner and mother. Typically, females are bred every 18-26 months. For lions, there is not a particular breeding season. After a 100-119 day (3 month) gestation period, most females yield 1-5 cubs. Lion cubs have an advantage since they have an extended family to protect an aid in raising them. “Maturity” of the cubs is attained by 3-4 years of age; however, they continue to grow until they are 6 years of age. By 3 years of age, most males are driven off to join up with another pride or create their own.
Lions live in groups (many of whom are extended family members). Each group is called a pride.
This pride consists of 5-6 related adult females, a set of males and some cubs. The total number of members in the pride is normally 15, but it can be up to 40 lions. One of the ways that the pride strengthens its bond is through roaring. Roaring also serves as a function to establish territorial rights and it allows stray members to reestablish contact. The loudest intensity ever measured by any Felid was of a male lion’s roar at 114 decibels; some have even reported being able to hear a roar as much as five miles away.
Another way in which a pride distinguishes itself is through scent marking. By claw marking trees, rubbing their cheeks/jaws on objects, defecating and urinating on surroundings; lions are able ward off competition, effectively reproduce and in some cases even hide their own scent.
Similar to the other 37 Felidae species, lions have also struggled with human habitat destruction. In the late 1980’s, lions faced droughts in the “Gir Forest” and were poisoned by farmers who felt their livestock was threatened. These hardships left a very small remaining population that was extremely susceptible to disease and parasites.
Fortunately, 70 of the “Gir Forest” offspring who survived are now participating in a Species Survival Plan (a specialized computer generated mating program) in Europe.
From South Africa, 37 lions were imported to zoos for specified breeding programs in the United States. In captivity, lions can live up to their 20’s.
As with any endangered species, we need to work together to support conservation and education in order to have a future wildlife population.
Dr. John Seidensticker and Dr. Susan Lumpkin, Great Cats: Majestic Creatures of the Wild. Pennsylvania: Rodale Press, Inc. 1993.
Ronald M. Nowak and John L. Paradiso, Walker’s Mammals of the World Volume II. Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press Ltd. 1983.
By Vanessa Larkin, President Whispering Whiskers and Director, Felids and Friends