Common name: lion (female lioness)
- Body length: 2.40 - 3.30 m (including 0.60 - 1.00 m of tail)
- Height at the withers(1): male: 1.20 m; female: 1.10 m
- Weight: male: 189 kg; female: 126 kg
- Lifespan: male: 9-10 years (African) - 16 years (Asian); female: 15-16 years
- Sexual maturity: 3-4 years
HABITAT AND GEOGRAPHICAL DISTRIBUTION
The lion, scientific name Panthera leo of the dei family Felidae, today it lives in parts of sub-Saharan Africa except in the desert and tropical rainforest areas. Its environment is the savannah (tropical and subtropical environment characterized by low vegetation, mainly grassy and fairly sparse trees) where it has an excellent chance of finding prey, especially ungulates. In this environment the lion is truly the king in the sense that it is the undisputed predator, followed by the spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) with which it occasionally competes.
As for the Asian area, in which it was once widespread, today only a single isolated population is found in 1,400 km², in the National Park and Wild life Sanctuary, in India.
CHARACTER, BEHAVIOR AND SOCIAL LIFE
The lion is an animal that lives in a group and rarely all members of the group are present at the same time. On average, a group is made up of 13 lions formed as follows: 1.7 adult males; 4.5 females; 3.8 young and 2.8 puppies.
The dominant male is the one who has taken over the previous male who was forcibly driven out. Generally, in order to control a group, males band together, especially siblings.
When male puppies reach the age of about 2.5 years they must leave the group in which they have lived up to that point as they are considered a threat by the dominant male. These males lead a nomadic life for two to three years so they tend to form a coalition with other solitary males and together seek a group to take over.
Male lion coalitions are generally no more than four and the advantage of this coalition is that they have the ability to rule a group for about three years.
The male lion is an animal that when fighting is a strenuous fighter and it is very common to be injured or killed when specimens of equal strength fight each other.
It is a large feline characterized by a brown coat, white belly and a long tail with a black tuft at the end.
What characterizes the lion is the sexual dimorphism that is to say the females are different from the males characterized in fact by the absence of the mane whose thickness is regulated in the male lion by the rate of testosterone.
The young have dark spots on the coat up to the age of three months and generally disappear as they grow but in some specimens they can also remain in the stomach.
They have the ability to recognize and interact with each other. They use visual signals such as the mane which serves to signal the presence of a male from a distance.
Male lions have a habit of marking their territory by spraying urine on the grass (females do this very rarely).
A social feature in the lion is the roar. Males acquire this ability when they reach one year of age (females shortly after) and the two roars are generally recognizable as the male ones are strong while the female ones are deep.
Usually the lion roars either when it is standing or when it is curled up. Roaring serves to promote one's territory, to communicate with the others in the group, to demonstrate one's strength.
Another way to communicate is tactile communication: the struggles that are undertaken for the conquest of a group; greet each other by rubbing the head and the tails at the top emitting groans.
It is a carnivorous animal. It hunts in groups but then who really kills the prey is only one. In fact the males due to their mane have a lower visibility than the females therefore it is the females of a group that carry out most of the hunting even if then the male takes the large part and is aggressive as much as the females also feed. if in fact it was they who did all the work.
Typically the hunt takes place at night and early in the morning.
For the African lion the preferred preys are ungulates such as gazelles, impalas, zebras, wildebeest. Some specimens, however, do not disdain larger animals such as giraffes, buffaloes. Lions that fail to capture large prey eat rodents, fish, ostrich eggs, birds, amphibians, and reptiles.Several studies have shown that while with solitary hunting the success rate is 17% with group hunting this rises to 30%.
REPRODUCTION AND GROWTH OF CHILDREN
It is a polygamous animal, that is, it does not have a fixed companion and mates with several different males during the same day. It has been estimated that a lioness mates 3,000 times a year for every cub that is born having a very long inspiration.
The young can be born at any time of the year (polyestro females) with a peak in the rainy season.
The pregnancy lasts about 100-120 days and 1 to 6 puppies are born which can also have different fathers and weigh from 1 to 2 kg. In general, the females of a herd synchronize their estrus so that they become pregnant at the same time to exchange the roles of parents with the other lionesses (for example, the young suck the milk from any female).
The little ones at birth have their eyes closed which are opened on the eleventh day and start walking after 15 days.
Generally up to the age of two months the puppies are kept hidden from their mother and are weaned at the age of 7-10 months.
Typically when a male lion reaches the age of 3-4 he is able to take command of a herd and this means that the old male (usually this happens when he has reached the age of about 8) is chased away. . Often a new dominant male also results in all puppies under the age of two being killed. This happens because as long as the females have young to raise they will not be available for mating. In fact, estrus returns within 2-3 weeks if there are no puppies to look after.
The lionesses when the new male tries to kill the cubs strenuously defends them but most of the time he loses his life in the fight.
Females tend to have pups every couple of years.
When puppies reach around 6-7 months they are often left alone and this is a time when they are particularly vulnerable as they can be attacked by predators, especially hyenas. In any case, the dominant male lion, while not playing an active role in the growth of the young, in any case protects the herd and therefore also the young from any predators.
The adult lion is an animal that has no predators if one does not consider the man and the other lions who kill the young (see paragraph Reproduction and growth of the young).
Hunting and poaching are serious problems for the conservation of this species. In 1960 it was estimated that around 20,000 lions were killed in one year in the Serengheti National Park in Africa.
Too often, one is mistakenly afraid of the lion for oneself and one's livestock. This fear can only be justified by the fact that there are no other prey in the area where the lion lives. History teaches us: for years the Masai have lived with lions without them attacking them or attacking their livestock.
STATE OF THE POPULATION
The lion is classified on the IUNC Red list among animals VULNERABLE (VU) that is to say that it is considered to be at high risk of extinction in the wild. This assessment was based on the fact that it has been estimated that within three generations (twenty years) there will be a 30% decline in its population due to a decrease in its natural prey which will lead to the lion's search for animals as well. domestic with the consequent death by human killing.
From analyzes carried out on lions present in Tanzania in the Serengeti National Park, it was found that 92% of lions are affected by FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus) a virus similar to human HIV. However, this virus does not seem to have any influence on the health of lions but only on that of domestic cats.
To hear the noises emitted by this animal, go to the article: The sounds made by the lion.
(1) Withers: region of the body of the quadrupeds between the upper edge of the neck and the back and above the shoulders, in practice the highest area of the body.