12 Fascinating Facts about Lions
Lions are the world’s only truly sociable cats. With their regal presence and power, some say they are the rulers of Africa’s Eden. On August 10th annually, we celebrate World Lion Day, so let’s leap in and learn more.
- There are two subspecies of lions. The endangered Asiatic lion (Panthera leo persica) is found only in Gir, India, with a 2020 population of 674 animals. However, they once roamed much of India and the Middle East. Curiously, lions found in west and central Africa are genetically closer to P. leo persica, than their sub-Saharan compatriots.
- Now classified as vulnerable, the African lion (P. leo leo) is found throughout sub-Saharan Africa, predominantly in national parks, such as Hwange National Park. Habitat loss and human activities have caused a massive decline of 43% in the last twenty years, with an estimated wild population of 20 000 in only 5% of their historical range.
- Recently, the surge in demand for lion bones, used in eastern traditional medicine to replace scarce tiger bones, has further complicated the matter.
- The MGM lion is not roaring – it is growling. In the Etosha National Park, where territories are enormous, the sound of a true roar is deep and resonant, ensuring it reverberates great distances to advertise its presence and summon pride members. The volume can reach 114 decibels (110dB can be painful for humans) and can be heard 8 kilometres away in still air. Lions also have other vocalisations, from soft moans used for contact-calling to hissing in warning and snarling when competing.
- Male lions are, at best, tolerant fathers. Male lions will not hesitate to kill and cannibalise the young of other males (infanticide) when making territorial challenges. A short while later, territorial females become sexually receptive. However, besides providing security while the young grow, male lions play no active parenting role. Often the eldest female is considered the pride leader.
- When young males reach sexual maturity at around three years, pride males will evict them from the territory. Young males, often brothers, form coalitions of up to 5 animals to initially survive and later be able to secure and defend as large a territory as possible.
- A group of lions is called a pride, made up of more than two animals, with numerous records of prides numbering from 30-50 individuals. The average lifespan in the wild of a lion is 10-15 years. The Serondela Pride consists of 13 lions and guests were ecstatic in July 2022 to witness most of the pride lapping up water at the river’s edge while on a cruise with Serondela Lodge. Thanks to guide Timo Britze for the fantastic photo below.
- Male lions may service more than one pride of females. Females are said to occupy a home range within a territory, effectively paying the rent with food and reproductive opportunities. Females typically live out their lives with their natal group unless forced to splinter into smaller prides due to factors such as food scarcity. These groups exhibit strong social bonds, and female lion “friendships” are readily apparent.
- Lions remain inactive for up to 18 hours per day. They are most active at night, dawn and dusk, and occasionally in daylight (particularly in stormy weather). As social animals, lions appear to take cues from one another regarding what activity they undertake. This could involve group vocalisations, grooming, rest, hunting etc.
- Lions will hunt and eat anything from rodents to elephants. In some areas, such as South Luangwa National Park, they may specialise in certain species, such as impala, buffalo or hippopotamus, in response to the size of the pride and the amount of food needed for their survival. Injured or sick lions have even been known to kill and eat humans. Guests of Old Drift Lodge in Zambezi National Park were excited to witness the Hippo Creek Pride take down and eat a buffalo. Check out the photo below of the lions warning the circling vultures.
- Spotted hyenas are the lion’s only competitors for food. However, both species are capable hunters that will readily kill and/or scavenge from the other if the opportunity arises.
- The largest lion ever recorded weighed 312kg. Males weigh 170–230 kg, while females weigh 120–180 kg. On average, the largest lions are found in Botswana’s parks, such as Chobe National Park and the Okavango Delta.