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Lion - Description: The lion is the largest of the African carnivores. It has a huge head with a heavy strong muzzle and enormous canines. The pattern of spots which shows at the roots of the whiskers is unique to each individual. The coat is short, with a mane in males only, this becoming visible at 2 years. Manes are tawny to reddish-brown to black and cover the head between the ears, the shoulders, neck and chest and extend along the belly, forming a fringe. Body colour is tawny with white underparts. The backs of the ears, tail tip and lips are black. Adults measure 120 cm (male), 110 cm (female) at the shoulder, with an average weight of 260 kg (males) and 126 kg (females

Lion – Habits, Behaviour and Social Organisation:
Lions are predominantly nocturnal, but are also active in the early morning and late afternoon. They are the only truly social cats and live in resident prides, which have a matriarchal society with communal care. Prides can number 40 members but they rarely all assemble in one spot. The average number is made up of 13 related females which are descendants of females that have occupied the same range for many generations. Males are not related to the females and have to fight the resident males to gain control over the pride. Their tenure usually lasts no longer than 2 years. Once males have taken over a pride they will kill any cubs less than one year old. This causes the females to enter oestrus, and the males will then mate within a few days, thus ensuring the continuation of their genes. The prides occupy hunting ranges which may be as small as 20 km² where there is high prey density, to 400 km² where it is low. The pride spend much of their time resting (20-21 hours a day) but when active, males mark and patrol the defended part of their range by spraying urine on trees and bushes and leaving scent from the interdigital glands by scraping.


Lion – Food and Hunting:
The lion’s size allows it to hunt large prey, between 50-300 kg (sometimes up to 1000 kg); it also eats insects, reptiles, mammals (from the size of mice to buffalo) and birds, up to the size of ostrich. Smaller prey is normally caught and eaten by a single animal and larger prey by the pride. Working as a team the females stalk, using cover with great skill. Usually moving on a broad front, they encircle their prey from the sides, causing them to panic and run towards the waiting lions on the opposite side. They will rarely charge unless they are within 30 metres of their prey. Smaller animals are clutched with both front claws and killed with a bite to the neck or throat. Larger prey is approached from an oblique angle. Then one paw is placed over the shoulder or rump and – by rearing up and using its strength and weight - it pulls the animal down backwards and sideways. The prey is usually killed by grabbing the nose or throat and suffocating it. The males very rarely take part in the hunt but are quick to run in and steal the ‘lion’s share’. After the males have had their fill, the females will eat. The cubs eat last; they are normally the ones that will suffer when prey is scarce.


Lion – Reproduction and Offspring:


There is no special breeding season. Gestation is from 100 to 114 days and the average litter size is 3 cubs (2-6). Cubs are born in a lair away from the pride and are blind and helpless; weighing 1-2 kg, they have spotted grey woolly coats which change after 3 months. Their eyes open at 3-11 days; they can walk at 10-15 days and run at 25-30 days. Females introduce the cubs to the pride and lead them to kills from the age of 4 weeks (4-8 weeks); they can keep up with the pride at 7 weeks old and are weaned at 7-9 months but are unable to fend for themselves until they are 16 months old. Females remain with the pride but males are forced to emigrate at the age of 3 years, with male littermates often staying together for life, becoming nomads and following the migratory herds until they take over their own pride. Males mature sexually at 60 months; females 43-54 months.


Lion - Adaptations: 

With their size and gregarious habits, lions are adapted to prey on larger ungulates specifically. They hunt cooperatively, increasing their chances of success. Communal care increases the survival of young.


Lion – Population and Distribution: 


South of the Sahara and north of South Africa, although present in some national parks and game reserves and areas where they have been reintroduced into South Africa. Now extinct in North Africa. A small population survive in the Gir forest in India. Population: No sound estimates.


Lion Population in Namibia:
The latest estimate in Namibia was 562-894. (Namibia Large Carnivore Atlas – July 2004).




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