We all seem to know lions to majestic beasts that are shown as a symbol of power, strength, and royalty but there is much more to a lion than what it represents.
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There are not as many lions as you would think.
There are about 23,000 lions left in the wild in the entire world which is significantly lower than the wild African elephants that are about 415,000 in the world with Africa having a bigger percentage of the lions and a smaller percentage in India, Gir forest. Their decline is caused by a number of factors including;
- Diseases such as rabies and canine distemper virus which is highly contagious due to its airborne nature and due to its ability to be transmitted from the infected lioness to her unborn cubs.
- Loss of habitat. This has been caused majorly by humans who take and destroy the animals’ habitat to create space for the construction of various infrastructure
- Loss of prey. Since their prey is the same with most of the other carnivorous wild animals in the parks and reserves such as crocodiles, the other big cats and hyena and other game meat hunters, the prey suffer a huge decline. The demand of the prey is significantly higher than the supply. Due to this, they are made to travel much further to get prey to hunt.
- Conflict with humans. As lions travel looking for their next prey to hunt, they often end up getting into the lands of the Maa occupants such as the Maasai and end up hunting their cattle. This causes conflict as the Maasai chase away the lions often killing and injuring some of them in the process.
- Inbreeding. This is the mating of animals that are closely related than the average relationship within the population such as between siblings, cousins and offspring and parent. This causes reduction in genetic variation that reduces their ability to evolve and cope with environmental changes thus increasing their extinction risk. Inbreeding also causes low reproductive performance, increased cub mortality and reduction of immune proficiency.
- Poaching. As much as we would like to say that the world has changed and we are better people now who would not condone or participate in the practice of poaching, there are still those who do. They are hunted for their skin, claws, teeth, bones and mane that have a large growing market in Asian countries. Even though poaching in Kenya is illegal, Kenya ranks in the top 10 of the world’s production of game meat and game products.
Due to all these reasons, lions are now listed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). For a species to be classifies as a vulnerable species, its population has declined at least 50% and it is being threatened with a chance of being extinct if the circumstances threatening its survival and safe reproduction are not changed.
There are only 2 types of wild lions.
The African lion in Africa and the Asiatic lion are the only two types of lions found in the entire world. The African lions found in various African countries, are significantly more than the Asiatic lions that can only be found in India at the Gir National Park, having a population of about 3% of the total lion population of the world.
They are highly adaptable.
Lions have adapted sharp teeth and claws to help them in hunting and tearing the flesh of their prey, night vision to aid them as they hunt at night, a sharp sense of smell to sniff out their prey, sharp eyesight to help them see their prey even from a distance, loose belly skin that helps when they are kicked by their prey in the stomach, different calls and sounds to express different emotions such as puffing to show that they mean no harm toward another pride of lions, woofing to express fear or shock or grunting when watching out for possible threats and to help prevent the pride members from straying away and getting lost.
Lions are incredibly strong
It is not unknown that lions are incredibly strong but did you know that they can eat up to a quarter of their weight which is about 40kgs of meat? Male lions generally weigh up to 190 kgs while females weigh up to 126 kgs and due to their great strength, they are able to drag their heavy prey over long distances. They are able to drag up to 10 times their weight!
They are primarily nocturnal
It is rare to see lions Due to the adaptation of their eyes to see in the dark; lions mostly hunt during the night. However, they can also be active during early morning and evening hours. They also prefer to hunt during storms because the noise and the wind make it hard for their prey to hear or see them.
Their cubs are born with blue eyes and spotty fur
Yes, as surprising as it seems, lion cubs are born with blue eyes and spotty fur. Their eyes generally turn to an orange-brown color or an amber color. While their spotty fur generally fades away as they grow.
The king of the jungle doesn’t live in the jungle.
The name might not come as a surprise but did you know these big cats don’t live in the jungle? They mostly inhabit open lands like savannah grasslands , woodlands and scrublands. Due to their highly adaptive nature, lions are able to inhabit even deserts. There are some desert-adapted lions that can be found in the arid lands of Namibia surviving on the little prey they can hunt along the waterway and water. Lions can also be found on beaches such as in Saadani National Park in Tanzania and on mountain ridges. This is possible as long as there is sufficient prey for them to hunt.
Cubs in the Pride are usually born around the same time
In a pride, the lionesses usually have a synchronized breeding cycle so that they give birth around the same time as each other. Because of this, the cubs have communal care meaning they are all raised together and the cubs can suckle from any female lioness in the pride for milk. This also gives the cubs a greater chance to survive
Lions roar together
Lions are the only cat species that roar together.The roar goes on for about 40-50 seconds and the entire pride joins in, including the little cubs that may be heard mewing. The roaring allows them to communicate with other prides to mark their territory. Their roar can be heard up to 8km away.
Love to sleep
Big or small, wild or tame, cats love to sleep. Lions are not different to their smaller tame counterparts as the enjoy napping and can spend 16-20 hours napping. Lions do this to conserve as much energy as the can since they do not hunt every day
Female lions do most of the hunting
They might look bigger and stronger but the male lions work to defend and protect the pride from danger. The lionesses hunt and bring back their hunt for the rest of the pride. The lionesses work together to bring down large prey including wildebeests and buffaloes. Male lions usually join in when it involves hunting much larger and more challenging prey.
Their mane changes color with age
The male lion is famous for its mane that can grow up to 16cm long. The older the lion gets, the darker its mane gets. Their mane is not only used to attract lionesses but also to protect their heads and necks from injury during fights.
Lions are social cats
They live in groups called the pride. Lions in a pride would hunt and live together. A pride could have as few as four lions or as many as forty lions. Most prides have between ten and twenty lions.