African lion — a strong predator, which is second only to the tiger in size. Since ancient times, the power of lions has been recognized in the animal world of nature. Their images on coats of arms, flags, sculptures symbolize power and strength. Unfortunately, even the king of nature today needs help, it must be protected from complete destruction by man.
Origin of the species and description
African Lion — this is a predatory, large mammal, a bright representative of the panther genus from the subfamily of big cats. All lions can be conditionally divided into Asian and African, while the dimensions of individuals from the latter group are more impressive. This species evolved in Africa about 1 million years ago. On the territory of Europe in Italy, ancient fossils were found, whose age is estimated at about 700,000 years.
Video: African lion
Specialists have identified several subspecies of African lions:
- Barbary lions or North African — differ in their especially large dimensions, but in the wild they are no longer found, since they were completely exterminated by man. About a hundred Barbary lions are kept in zoos around the world, but they can no longer be called purebred;
- Masai lions, whose males are characterized by a very long mane;
- Senegalese — the smallest of all African lions, it is this subspecies that is most similar to the Asian species;
- Congolese — lives in Uganda;
- Northwest African lions — large subspecies with very light coloration;
- Transvaal lion — also distinguished by impressive dimensions, long legs;
- The genetic differences between African and Asian lions are no more significant than the genetic differences between different human races.
Appearance view and features
Representatives of this species of cats are characterized by external differences by gender. Males are larger and have long lush manes that can grow up to 40 centimeters. In some subspecies, hair grows not only on the head, but also on the neck, chest, sometimes forming one single large mane. In Senegal lions, hair grows very sparse and short. All lions have a tail adorned with a small tassel, inside of which there is a curved small bone.
The body of lions is muscular and very flexible. Body size and weight depend on the subspecies. The maximum weight that was officially recorded was 370 kg with a body length of more than 3.6 m. The average weight of a male ranges from 180-220 kg, and that of a female is about 130-150 kg. At the withers, females reach 80-90 cm, a little less than two meters in length, excluding the tail. The height of males is about 120-125 cm with a body length of 2.5 meters.
Lions have fairly large eyes that are perfectly adapted to the dark. The jaws of predatory cats are very powerful, motionless to the sides. The large front fangs are effective weapons during lion hunting, they are designed to tear out pieces of flesh. Like all members of the cat family, lions never chew their food, they swallow whole pieces. The lion’s tongue is rough with a special bumpy coating, with which the hunter separates the bones from the meat while eating, and also catches ticks and fleas while washing.
The color of lions may vary slightly depending on the subspecies. There are individuals both with a milky-beige color, and with a light brown color of the body, an almost black mane. There are known cases of the birth of albino lions.
Now you know what an African lion looks like. Let’s see where he lives.
Where does the African lion live?
About 10 thousand years ago, lions, including African ones, were the most numerous mammals after humans. For two centuries, their habitat has been significantly reduced. If even in the early Middle Ages all subspecies of the African lion were found almost everywhere in Africa, except for tropical forests and deserts, today predators have survived only south of the Sahara.
African lions live:
- in the western and northwestern part of the African continent;
- in the southeast, east of Africa.
Interesting fact: The characteristic roar is common to all four species of the cat family, but the lion is the most intimidating and loud, reaching 115 decibels, which is comparable to the loudness of a rock concert. The roar of a lion can be heard from 10 kilometers away, its vibrations are capable of raising a cloud of dust.
Savannas — favorite habitats of predatory African cats. Sometimes these predators can move into the forest. Animals always stay close to some reservoir, where ungulate mammals come to drink and this is the main place of their hunting.
In captivity, African lions feel pretty good, they give offspring quite easily, especially in open enclosures. With proper care and nutrition, they can live up to 20 years, which is much longer than in the wild.
What does the African lion eat?
African predators prey on large zebras, wildebeest, African warthogs, reptiles and a variety of small animals, including rodents and birds. Representatives of the cat family do not disdain to take prey from other smaller predators, pick up carrion.
Lions prefer to hunt in small groups at dusk and at night. They jump onto the victim from above and immediately dig into the throat, trying to knock the prey to the ground as quickly as possible. Hunting ends successfully only in half of the cases. Lions do not run long distances because of their physiological characteristics — they have a very small and weak heart relative to a large muscular body.
Sometimes lions go hungry for several days. Each individual needs at least 7-9 kg of meat per day. They drink water willingly at every opportunity, but if it is not enough, they can do without it for up to 4-5 days, since the necessary liquid is obtained from food. Despite the fact that mainly only females hunt, males absorb food first, and only then lionesses and young individuals. The process of eating is always very noisy with fights and growls.
If the victim is very large and strong, the male can join the hunt and help the lionesses. Solitary males, who do not yet have their own pride, go hunting alone, but because of their impressive mane, it is not as effective as females, so they often choose lighter and smaller prey.
Peculiarities of character and lifestyle
Lionesses live longer than males. Lions at the peak of their strength are between the ages of 5 and 10 years, after reaching the maximum age of their activity, a very small part of the males survive. African lions differ from other cats in the formation of a pride or a separate family group. A pride usually consists of several mature individuals and their offspring. Young lion cubs leave the parent group when they reach puberty. They will become loners until they find themselves a new pride with an old weak leader, who in a duel will give up his rights to the strong and young. Some lions remain nomads all their lives.
Prides have their own rules:
- all obey the main male;
- alien males and grown-up lion cubs are expelled;
- young females remain in the pride;
- males always zealously guard their territory, which is several square kilometers;
- females are the main value of males;
- family ties — the basis of relationships in the pride.
African lions are most active after sunset. Going hunting, the females leave the “nanny” with the kittens. During the day, lions mostly rest, males go around and mark their territory. A male who has his own pride is constantly forced to drive other males away from his females. Violent fights happen very often. Even if the leader of the pride did not die in a fight, but was driven out, then most likely he is doomed to death either due to injuries received in a skirmish or due to hunger.
Social structure and reproduction
Unlike other mammals, lions mate at any time of the year and that is why it is quite common to see a female with cubs of different ages. By the age of 3-4, lionesses become able to bear offspring. Lions are polygamous and a male can mate with several females from his pride in order to leave as many offspring as possible and pass on his genes.
Pregnancy lasts about four months. With the approach of an important period, the female retires to give birth to cubs. The lioness hides the kittens that are born for six weeks, and only then brings them into the pride.
Usually 3-4 lion cubs are born. At birth, they weigh no more than 1.5 kg. Babies open their eyes after 10-11 days, and only after a couple of weeks they begin to walk. Lionesses in the pride give birth almost simultaneously, they all feed newborn lion cubs together, take care of them, forming a kind of nursery. Only a year later, the kids join the hunt, learn from adults. Until the age of two, young males are protected by the main lion, and then they are driven out.
An interesting fact: If the former head of the lion family was defeated by another male, then the newly arrived lion immediately kills all the cubs so that the females are ready for mating as soon as possible. Male lionesses are rarely killed. There have been cases in the wild when lionesses helped their main male drive away young loners.
Natural enemies of African lions
Adult African lions have practically no enemies among animals. Sometimes they can be injured while hunting, which makes them unable to get food. If a lone male was injured, then most likely he would die of starvation, and if it was a lion from a pride or a lioness, then other members of the family would take care of them. Adult individuals of the African lion are wary only of large crocodiles, as predatory cats are powerless in front of them.
Lion cubs quite often die in the mouth of males, are attacked by other predators. Hyenas are capable of killing young individuals or injured and sick adult lions. In prides, epidemics of dangerous diseases sometimes begin that can kill several individuals or even the entire family at once. Peddlers of infection — blood-sucking parasites.
Poaching is the main threat to African lions. They fall into the traps of hunters, they are killed from firearms during a safari. Some tourists have a great desire to get a hunting trophy in the form of a lion skin.
Interesting fact: In ancient times, lions were found throughout Europe, the Caucasus, almost throughout Asia. Over time, they were all exterminated by hunters.
Population and species status
B the natural habitat today there are 50,000 African lions, in zoos — about 2000 individuals. The African lion was introduced into the Red Book by an international convention as an endangered species. The North African subspecies has already been completely exterminated by humans and can only be found in zoos.
According to available data, in the 60s of the last century, about 20 thousand African lions were killed by poachers in the Serengeti Park. In six countries on the African continent, trophy hunting for these graceful animals is allowed. Hunters from all over the world flock to the savannas without thinking about the damage they cause to lion populations.
Despite the fact that lions do not hunt people under normal conditions, sometimes there are human victims. On the African continent, about a hundred people die every year due to the fault of predatory cats, usually sick or old males attack, for whom other prey becomes inaccessible. This fact additionally provokes an aggressive reaction of the local population against lion prides, their shooting.
Interesting fact: The number of African lion prides is usually 15 individuals, together with cubs, but can reach up to 40 individuals. In Asiatic lions, prides are divided into male and female, and sexually mature individuals contact only during the mating season.
African Lion Conservation
The creation of national parks and reserves contributes to the conservation of African lions. The most significant are the national parks in Tanzania, Namibia, the Kruger Park in South Africa. Outside these territories, lions are quite often killed by people due to the fact that they carry livestock. The closer the settlement is to the habitats of predatory cats, the more individuals are shot.
The main negative factors affecting the population:
- climate change;
- various diseases and human activities;
- loss of habitual habitats;
- conflicts with humans.
Individuals in western Africa are practically isolated from the Central African lion population and hardly interbreed with each other. Geographic isolation can lead to a sharp reduction in genetic diversity. To prevent this and rejuvenate the gene pool, scientists use methods of artificial insemination. Such a process is very time-consuming and complicated, but there is no other way out yet. The introduction of individual individuals from another population into new prides is practiced. Conflicts between individuals usually do not arise.
The African lion is quite successfully bred in artificial conditions, but according to experts, it has not been purebred for a long time. Every person from childhood knows what a lion looks like, and already by the chic mane, the child recognizes the mighty king of beasts. Now the fate of this graceful animal depends entirely on human actions. Time will tell if the population of the African lion will be preserved or if it will only be seen in a picture in a textbook, in a zoo.