30 Sep 2022
Lions are a symbol of wild Africa, majestic animals that showcase power and beauty. Seeing one in the wild is one of a safari’s ultimate highlights.
They were the second most widely spread species after humans, can now be found only in sub-Saharan Africa and India. Once ruled over the vast area of Africa and Eurasia, this magnificent beast is now in a vulnerable condition.
Lions are often referred to as the 'King of the Jungle', yet lions live in grasslands and savannas, where some cover and plenty of water can be found.
Lions are the most social cats and usually live in a family group of between 10 and 15 animals called a 'pride'. The pride often consists of up to 3 male lions and a group of 10 or 12 related female lions and their young. The size of the pride will depend on how much food and water is available.
Females leave their pride to give birth and usually return 4 to 8 weeks later. After birth, females bring the litter back to pride and raise the cubs communally. A cub can suckle from any female with milk. It will stay with the mother for up to 2 years. During this time, cubs learn hunting skills from adults and even practice playfully stalking and pouncing.
A roar is a sign of dominance, so the louder the better as far as lions are concerned. Lions use these impressive roars to warn rivals and show off how big and bad they are.
This is one of the great sounds you can hear on a safari and it really echoes through the night. Males have a deeper roar than the lionesses (consider this a bonus fun fact about lions).
The incredible roar is caused by a ligament in their voice box. This ligament is stretched to enable more air to pass across the vocal cords, making the incredibly deep and loud sound that is synonymous with lion power.
They do most of their hunting at night as their eyes have adapted to the dark and this gives them a huge advantage over their prey. They hunt more during storms as the noise and wind make it harder for prey to see and hear them.
When hunting, lionesses have specific roles. Some play the role of 'centre' and others the role of 'wing' - the wings chase the prey towards the centres.
Male lions grow impressive manes the older they get. These manes grow up to 16cm long and are a sign of dominance. The older they get, the darker their manes go. As well as attracting females, their manes may also protect their neck and head from injuries during fights.
They help to control the numbers of plant eating (herbivore) animals, such as zebra and buffalo, which in turn effects the condition of grasslands and forests. Without lions to control them, these species can also out-compete other animals, eventually causing their extinction.
Despite the amazing facts about lions, it is one serious fact that we must know.
There are about 20 000 lions left in the wild. In 26 African countries they are already extinct. 90% of the lions’ historical roaming grounds have disappeared. At the rate of expansion in Sub-Saharan Africa, it’s estimated that in 2050 lions will be extinct in the wild.
African lion numbers are thought to have declined by over 40% in the just three generations.
The lion is also an iconic symbol to people all around the world. Many communities in Africa rely on the money brought in from tourism, with lions being one of the biggest attractions.
However, it is known that the ecosystem is changing, but the way we do the things and respect animals is also in our hands.