Lions are considered the “kings of animals” and have fascinated people from time immemorial. Especially male lions impress with their big mane and their mighty roar.
What do lions look like?
Lions belong to the order of predators and there to the family of cats and the genus of big cats.
Next to the tigers, they are the largest predatory cats on earth:
They grow up to 180 centimeters long, the tail measures an additional 70 to 100 centimeters, the shoulder height is 75 to 110 centimeters and they weigh between 120 and 250 kilograms.
Females are much smaller and weigh on average only 150 kilograms.
The fur of the lions is yellowish brown to reddish or dark brown in color, on the belly it is slightly lighter.
The tail is hairy and carries a black tassel at the end.
The unmistakable characteristic of males is the enormous mane, which is darker in color than the rest of the coat.
The mane can be blackish brown to reddish brown, but also yellowish brown, and extends from the cheeks over the shoulders to the chest or even to the belly.
The mane of males does not form until they are about five years old. Females lack it completely, and Asiatic male lions have a more weakly developed mane.
Where do lions live?
Today, lions are only found in sub-Saharan Africa and in a small nature reserve on the Kathiawar peninsula in the Indian state of Gujarat. In the past, they were distributed from North to South Africa and from across the Near East to all of India.
Lions mainly stay in the savannah, but they can also be found in dry forests and semi-deserts.
In humid tropical forests or in real deserts, where there are no waterholes, they can not survive.
What types of lions are there?
Depending on their area of origin, lions differ in size: the most enormous animals live in southern Africa, the most delicate in Asia.
In addition to lions, the genus of big cats includes tigers, leopards and jaguars.
How old do lions live?
On average, lions live from 14 to 20 years. In zoos, lions can even live to be over 30 years old. Males usually die earlier in the wild because they are driven away by young competitors. If they then do not find a new pride, they usually starve to death because they cannot hunt enough on their own.
How do lions live?
Lions are the only big cats that live in a pride. A pride consists of one to three males and up to 20 females and their cubs.
The most powerful male can usually be recognized by his particularly long and dark mane. It indicates that the pack leader is fit, healthy and ready to fight.
The mane presumably serves to protect the males from injuries caused by bites and paw blows during fights.
In addition, female lions prefer males with well-developed manes. Conversely, males with smaller manes give lions with large manes a wide berth because they know they are dealing with a powerful rival.
The place at the head of the pride is hotly contested: usually the leader has to give way to another male lion after two to three years. Often the new pride leader kills the cubs of the defeated lion. The females then become ready to mate again more quickly.
The females usually always stay in the same pride, but the males have to leave the pride when they become sexually mature. They form so-called bachelor groups with other males, move around together and hunt together. Eventually, each male tries to conquer his own pride.
A lion’s territory can be 20 to 400 square kilometers. If the animals find plenty of prey, the territory is smaller; if they find little food, it must be correspondingly larger.
The territory is marked with excrement and urine. In addition, the males show with their roar that the territory belongs to them.
When they are not hunting, lions sleep and doze for up to 20 hours a day. They are leisurely animals and cannot run particularly long distances.
When hunting, however, they can reach top speeds of up to 50 kilometers per hour; however, they cannot sustain this pace for long.
Because lions’ eyes are forward-facing, the animals can judge distances very well. This is very important for predators that go hunting.
And because their eyes, like those of all cats, have a light-reflecting layer in the retina, they can see excellently at night.
Their hearing is also very well developed: With their movable ears, they can hear exactly from which direction a sound is coming.
Friends and enemies of the lion
At most, a buffalo or a pack of hyenas can be dangerous to an adult lion. In the past, the animals were most threatened by humans who hunted them. Today, the animals are endangered by the destruction of their habitat, as well as by diseases transmitted by prey animals such as buffalo.
How do lions reproduce?
A male lion can smell whether a lioness is ready to mate. To do this, the animals plead: they open their mouths slightly, pull their upper lips and suck in the air. If the female is ready to mate, she will mate many times over the next five days.
After a gestation period of about 110 days, a lioness gives birth to two to four cubs. To give birth, she retreats to a hiding place and stays there with the cubs for up to eight weeks. Baby lions are 40 to 55 centimeters long and weigh 1200 to 1500 grams. Their fur is spotted. These spots usually disappear during the first year of life.
After these first weeks, the mother lion returns to the pride with her cubs. From this point on, the cubs are suckled not only by their own mother, but by all the lionesses in the pride who have cubs at the time.
Only when the cubs are six months old, they are weaned. Then they are allowed to go hunting for the first time. But it takes time for them to learn all the tricks, and it is not until they are about one and a half to two years old that they are successful hunters themselves and can fend for themselves. At three to four years, the animals become sexually mature.
How do lions hunt?
Male lions are real pashas: they leave the hunting to the females. Only these go hunting at night or in the morning hours. Males hunt only when they are not in a pride.
Because lions can’t run very fast for very long, they stalk prey and then attack from different directions. Hunting together makes it possible for them to take down very large prey.
Finally, they sprint after the prey with leaps up to six meters long, pull the animal to the ground and kill it with a bite to the throat. Then, however, first the males make themselves over the prey, before the females and at last the young animals may eat.
How do lions communicate?
The roar of a male lion can be heard up to eight kilometers away.
This is how the animals make an impression and gain respect.
Otherwise, lions make growling and growling sounds.
What do lions eat?
Lions are pure carnivores. They hunt mainly buffalo, zebra, antelope, wildebeest and gazelle. However, they do not stop at smaller animals such as hares, birds and sometimes even fish. Large prides can even kill half-grown elephants or hippos.
Lions also eat carrion – especially the males that live without a pride. They often drive other predators or hyenas away from their prey. In East Africa, hyenas are said to lose 70 percent of their prey to lions.