AFRICAN LION
. DESCRIPTION:

Typically a mature male stands 4 feet at the shoulder and is 8 .5 feet long, plus tail. He'll average 450 pounds. Females
are considerable smaller, weighing less than 300 pounds. Adult lions usually have a plain unspotted coat, light brown to
dark ochre in color. Cubs are marked with spots which sometimes persist on the legs and belly until they are fully grown.
Male lions have a brown mane, which tends to grow darker and fuller as the animal ages. The tail has a black tuft at the
end. "White" lions occasionally occur in the Transvaal region of southern Africa, but these are not true albinos.

II. GEOGRAPHICAL RANGE AND HABITAT:

Thousands of years ago, lions were common throughout southern Europe, southern Asia, eastern and central India and
over the whole of the African continent. Today, with the exception of some 300 highly protected animals in the Gir
National Park of India, the only naturally-occuring lions are found in Africa. (But even in Africa lions have been wiped out
in the north; the last Numidian male was shot as a trophy in the 1930s.) Lions do not live in heavy forests and jungles
and they do not inhabit desert areas due to a scarcity of game.

III. DIET:

Lions feed on a variety of large and medium-size prey. They prefer wildebeast (or gnu) to all others when the annual
migration brings the vast herds through the pride's range. Otherwise they eat buffalo, zebra, antelope, giraffe, and
warthogs. They also steal kills and carrion from other predators.

IV. LIFE CYCLE/SOCIAL STRUCTURE:

Lions are the only cats that live in large family groups. Each pride differs in size and formation, but a typical pride
consists of two males and seven females and a variable number of cubs. Females are usually sisters and/or cousins
that have grown up together. When the pride hunts as a group they employ an ambush that forces large prey into the
waiting paws of the males. Females have the speed but lack the body weight to knock down large "family size" prey such
as the wildebeast. Despite their tremendous power and adaptive efficiency, lions are more likely to fail than succeed in
their attempts to kill.
Subadult males are driven out at 2-1/2 to 3 years of age and may go in a group with other males. Females mature in
about two years, males a few years later. All big cats are induced ovulators, i.e. release of the ovum is brought about by
the act of mating. The period of gestation for the lioness is between 105 and 118 days and usually three or four cubs will
be born. Only one in five will survive the first year. When game is scarce the dominance hierarchy based on size and age
quickly becomes apparent. The youngest die first.

Life span in the wild is 15-18 years, in captivity 25-30 years.


V. SPECIAL ADAPTATIONS:

Backward-curved horny papillae cover the upper surface of the tongue; these are useful both in holding onto meat and
removing parasites during grooming. The roar of a lion can be heard up to five miles away and can be most intimidating
up close. Territorial roaring is usually heard an hour after sunset. When separated they roar to let each other know where
they are; females often call their cubs by roaring. The mature male's mane not only makes him appear larger but
protects his throat from his mortal enemies-other marauding lions and the hyenas after his cubs or kill.

VI. INTERPRETIVE INFORMATION:

A lion is a digitigrade, or toe walker; that is his heel doesn't touch the ground. His loud roar is made possible by the
cartilage in his throat having ossified into bone (referred to as the Hyoid structure). This is true of all the big cat or
"roaring" species. The smaller cats with the softer throat structure can only meow.

VII. STATUS IN WILD:

As a result of widespread persecution, cats in the wild have become one of the most threataened major groups of land
animals. Nevertheless, the African lion numbered perhaps 200,000 individuals in 1991. They are generally protected
even through some 150 humans have been mauled in the Gir National Park alone. Conversely in the Skeleton Coast
Park in West Africa's Namibia the lions are all gone. Some were killed outside park boundaries by livestock herdsmen;
others were forced to leave by drought.  


TALL WORLD TALES