The 'King of Beasts' roams the wilderness areas of Southern Africa with prolific prowess.
The lion is largest of all the cat species of Africa, with female lions in the Kruger park region growing to roughly 130kg (280lb) and males about 180kg (400lb). These gracious predators are easily recognizable by their camel color fur and large size. Males have long patches of darker hair around their face and on their necks which are known as mains. They average at around 1,5m or 5 feet in length, from their head to their hind legs (excluding tail), with their tails averaging at around 1m or 39 inches. The lack of mains on females is an easy way to tell the two sexes apart. Their average life expectancy is between 10 and 14 years of age.
Lions were once found throughout the mother continent of Africa, and even parts of the Middle East, but their population and distribution have since been pushed back into selected areas in South and Southern Africa and the Kalahari Desert, Central and Northern Africa. They are widely found in all parts of the Kruger National Park but are mainly seen in open grass areas in the middle section of the park, between the main Rest Camp Skukuza, and Satara. They are also a frequent sighting in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park between South Africa and Botswana and in the Central Kalahari within Botswana.
The conservation status of Lions is close to or vulnerable to endangerment currently. Although sights of lions in Southern African parks don’t happen once in a blue moon, Lions are quite rare nonetheless, especially compared to their historical populations. Overall there are fewer than 20 000 Lion-individuals left in the wild, compared to the near 450 000 which roamed the Earth just 100 years or so ago. The loss of habitat and conflict with humans has led to this massive decline in their numbers over the course of the 20th century. Conservation programs in parks in Africa have greatly helped protect the remaining Lion populations.
In Africa, they are very adapted to most habitats, with the exception of the rain forests within the Congo and the Sahara Desert. They are usually found in savanna grassland or dry semi-desert areas where scattered Acacia trees serve as shade from the African sun during the day, and their excellent night vision along with the thick grass is perfect for catching prey during the evening. Lions can still be found wherever their prey can be found in the form of big herbivores such as Buffaloes and large antelope.
Lions are usually organized in groups known as prides. The size of such a pride varies, but generally, there are about 5 female lions known as lionesses, along with their cubs and one or two male lions. Prides of well over 30 members have been reported, but such big prides are not the norm. Both lionesses and male lions have their roles to fulfill in such a pride. Lionesses are generally responsible for hunting, as well as taking care of the cubs. All the lionesses will nurture and take care of all the cubs, no matter which lioness' cub it is. Males, on the other hand, protect the pride from danger and are at the top of the pecking order in a pride. Each pride has its own territory marked by a scent given off by a male lion. These territories are roughly 260 square kilometers or 100 square miles.
Both Male and female lions produce a loud sound that can be heard from up to 5 kilometers away, known as a roar. They are inactive most of the day, sleeping up to 20 hours, and are active usually during the night time. Males sleep and rest more as they do not hunt regularly or take care of offspring, and are only called into action when the pride needs protection, although they sometimes participate in hunting when the pride is after big prey or has gone a long period of time without food. Lionesses groom themselves and the cubs regularly to get rid of ticks and other parasites. A normal pride has many symbiotic relationships between its members, where they benefit from each other by fulfilling different roles in their small societies.
In a pride, all the lionesses will carry the offspring of the male lion in charge of their pride. Lions and leopards have almost identical mating rituals, where they mate roughly every 15 – 20 minutes for a few days, roughly 100 times a day. This ensures that the lioness falls pregnant and after 110 days a litter of 1 – 3 cubs is born. If there are cubs of other males within a pride after a new male has taken over the pride, then those cubs are usually killed and the new male will have offspring of his own. All this is to ensure that his offspring continue and are cared for rather than the offspring of another male lion. Males reach sexual maturity at approximately 5 years of age and females at 4 years. This is when they can start breeding.
Lions do not have any natural predators or enemies except for other lion prides. Male lions often fight when one pride violates or goes into the territory of another pride. Lions are very aggressive when their territory is violated and fights like these may even result in deaths. Other enemies may include crocodiles, especially when battling over food, but lions don’t generally challenge crocodiles in the water, the same goes for crocodiles when on dry land.
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