Lions are golden in colour and males have an impressive mane. When fully grown a Lion’s body can measure between 1.5m and 2m in length, with their tail an additional 67cm to 1m in length.
Male lions can weigh approximately 180kg while the female (lioness) is smaller, weighing around 125kg. The life expectancy in the wild is 10 to 14 years, however in captivity they can live to be 30 years old.
Lions are incredibly fast animals when hunting their prey. They can reach speeds of up to 60km/hr and leap up to 12m.
In Africa, Lions are present in a number of large and well-managed protected areas, and most range states in East and Southern Africa have an infrastructure that supports wildlife tourism. In this way Lions generate significant revenue for park management and local communities and provide a strong incentive for wild land conservation (IUNCN redlist website – www.iucnredlist.org)
Regional conservation strategies have been developed for Lions in west and central Africa (IUCN 2006a) and eastern and southern Africa (IUCN 2006b). The West and Central African Lion Conservation Strategy has several primary objectives to address threats to Lions: to reduce Lion-human conflict, and to conserve and increase Lion habitat and wild prey base. The objectives of the Eastern and Southern African Lion Conservation Strategy are concerned with the root issues of Lion conservation, including policy and land use, socio-economics, trade, and conservation politics.
The Taronga Conseravtion Society also helps to support conseravtion projects in Africa such as the South Luangwa Conservation Society in Zambia, a project that protects animals and the environments they live in, as well as educating local communities against poaching.
The number of African Lions has been declining in range and numbers, a population decrease of approximately 30 per cent has occurred over the past two decades (approximately three Lion generations). The causes of this reduction (primarily indiscriminate killing in defence of life and livestock, coupled with prey base depletion: Bauer 2008), have not ceased. This estimated reduction is based on direct observation; appropriate indices of abundance; a decline in area of occupation, extent of occupation and habitat quality; and actual and potential levels of exploitation.
There have been many studies on the population and distribution of the Lion over the years, to try to obtain the most accurate numbers. The comparison between Lions that live in protected areas and those that do not has shown that the numbers of Lions in protected areas are more stable and possibly increasing, while those outside these areas are decreasing.
Information on the ICUN redlist website (June 2010) states that a group exercise led by WCS and the IUCN SSC Cat Specialist Group estimated that 42 per cent of major Lion populations were declining (Bauer 2008). The rate of decline is most unlikely to have been as high as 90 per cent, as reported in a series of news reports in 2003 (Kirby 2003, Frank and Parker 2003).
Distribution and Habitat
The African Lion lives in savannas throughout African countries such as Zambia, Zimbabwe, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon and Kenya.
They have a broad habitat tolerance, absent only from tropical rainforest and the interior of the Sahara Desert (Nowell and Jackson 1996). There are records of lions in elevations of more than 4000 m in the Bale Mountains and on Kilimanjaro (West and Packer in press).
Sexual maturity for male lions is five years and for females four years. Mating occurs regularly, every 20 minutes over a period of 3 to 4 days, when the female is in season. The gestation length is four to four and a half months and females generally give birth to two to four cubs. When a male cub reaches sexual maturity it will move on to find a bachelor group of young males and start competing for female attention.
Lions are carnivores and medium to large-sized ungulates (including antelopes, zebra and Wildebeest) are the bulk of their prey, but lions will eat almost any animal, from rodents to a rhino. They also scavenge, displacing other predators (such as the Spotted Hyena) from their kills. Females do most of the hunting, but the males get to eat first, reinforcing their dominance and ensuring the male is as strong and healthy as possible to protect his pride and cubs.
The lion is the only truly social big cat, and its roar can be heard over 8 kms away. They live in prides of up to 40 individuals, including a dominant male, four to six related females and their cubs. The females tend to give birth at the same time, creating a nursery environment.
A male lion’s large, healthy, mane says two key things: “stay away” to other males, and “come here” to females. A good mane is an indicator of health, nutrition and also good genes.
Lions and other cats (including your domestic cat) have an extraordinary organ in the roof of their mouths, called the Jacobson’s organ, which allows them to “taste” smells. Generally lions stalk their prey at night and rest during the day out of the hot sun - up to 20 hours of their day is spent resting and sleeping