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Lion: Kings and Queens of the Jungle


Renowned for its majesty and nicknamed the King of the Jungle, the lion is a symbol of power, is king of beast, a magnificent animal, and possesses both beauty and strength. They have captured our imaginations for centuries. Stars of movies and characters in books. The word also has similar meaning in our vocabulary. If you call someone lionhearted, you’re describing a courageous and brave person. If you lionize someone, you treat that person with great interest or importance.


Lions are the only cats that live in gro-ups, which are called prides. Prides are family units that may include up to three males, a dozen or more females, as well as their young. Living in a pride makes life easier. Hunting as a group means there is a better chance they will have food when they need it, and it is less likely that they will get injured while hunting. Lions are an exception to the usual solitary existence of most wild cat species. It has developed a social system based on teamwork, division of labor and an extended but closed family unit. The average pride may have 2 or 3 territorial males. These are usually brothers or pride mates who have formed a coalition to protect their females. Because a nursing lioness will come into heat a few weeks after the loss of cubs, males with newly won prides will often kill existing cubs, enabling them to sire their own. When resting, they seem to enjoy good fellowship with lots of touching, head rubbing, licking and purring.


Up to 21 hours a day, thier life is filled with sleeping, napping, and resting. At times, they will have bursts of activity, sometimes intense, then back to resting. They often rest in trees and are good climbers, possibly to catch a cool breeze, preview their domain, or to get away from flies. Researchers have often noticed them lying around in crazy poses, on their backs with their feet in the air or legs spread wide open! Some activities are “contagious” in prides. One lion will yawn, or groom itself, or roar, setting off a wave of yawning, grooming, or roaring! Males and females play very different roles in the life of the pride. Females do 85-90% of the hunting, normally setting up an ambush by which they drive the prey. Males only hunt 10% of the time, yet always get to eat first. Cooperative  hunting enables them to  take prey as large as buffaloes,  rhinos, hippos and giraffes.  However, scavenged food  provides  more than 50% of their diets and lions will often take over kills made by other carnivores. A kill is not shared equally within a pride, and at times of prey scarcity, high juvenile mortality rates occur, as hungry females may not even share with their offspring. Capable hunters by 2 years of age, they become fully grown between 5 and 6 years and normally live about 13 years.


Some mothers carefully care for their young; while others may neglect or even abandon them, more often when food is scarce. Litters consist of two to five cubs that average around 3 pounds each.  It is very common for two or more females to give birth about the same time, and the cubs are raised together. A lioness will permit cubs other than her own to suckle, sometimes enabling a neglected infant to survive.


The population in Africa has been reduced by half since the early 1950s. Today, fewer than 23,000 remain in all of Africa. The Gir Wildlife Sanctuary in India contains approximately 200 lions. They have been killed for centuries for rituals of bravery, as hunting trophies, and for their medicinal and magical powers. But conflicts with humans and habitat loss are the their greatest threat. Little is currently known about where lions go outside of national parks, what they do and what types of threats they face. With a growing human population surrounding parks, there are an increasing number of encounters with humans.