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African Lion

Universally known as the King of the Beasts - Lions certainly live up to the legend and are the favourite animal to see on an African Safari.

The African Lion - the continent's biggest cat

Africa's largest cat

Quick Facts about African Lions

Latin name: Panthera leo
Gestation period of a lion: 3.5 months
Size of litter: 2-6 cubs, ± 2kg (4.5lbs) each.
Size of territory of a lion: where prey is abundant can be as small as 20 km2 (8mi2), in less favourable areas up to 400 km2 (155mi2)
Life span of a lion: ♂-12 years, ♀- 15 years
How fast lions can run: 80km/h (50mph) over short distances, however, they may be able with a very short burst of speed to reach up to 100km/h (60mph).
Weight of male and female lions: ♂- 250kg (500lbs), ♀- 190kg (420lbs)

Lion cubs seen on safari in Zimbabwe

Lion cubs (Discover Safaris)

Distribution of African Lions

Top of the food chain dominating any natural ecosystem that they occur in.

They once occurred widely over most of Africa, and parts of Asia and Europe, unfortunately they are now confined to small pockets of protected areas throughout Africa. This is just 20% of their historical range.

Lion distribution in Africa

Lion distribution

Social Behaviour of African Lions

Unique within the cat family they are the only truly social cats. Spending a lot of their time building and re-enforcing social bonds between pride members. As a greeting they rub their faces and neck together sharing the common pride scent. Allo-grooming is cleaning each other, to re-enforce bonds or to try and gain favour with the dominant male. Pride members are so close they even care for and nurse each other's young.

However, this friendliness only extends to members of their own pride, any strangers are not treated so kindly and meetings between rival prides can be brutal and even fatal, with both the dominant male and the females protecting their territory.

Lions grooming

Lions grooming
Tambako on Flickr

What is a Lion Pride?

Prides are made up of a female core, that are usually related. This is the backbone of the pride and females will stay in the same territory their whole lives. Female cubs being welcomed into the pride, but male cubs are not as welcome. Once they reach a certain age their own father banishes them, lest they start challenging and threatening his dominance.

These young males are left to wander the wilderness alone, fending for themselves for their adolescent years. Avoiding and skulking through other prides territories, who would not welcome them, especially as young males, they are pushed out while searching for their place in the unforgiving wilderness.

Lion pride in Zimbabwe

Part of a pride of lions

If they're lucky, they have a brother that left their birth pride with them. Forming a strong bond with each other this often leads to male coalitions. Hunting, and when the time comes challenging for their own territory is more successful as a pair. Brothers work out that life is easier together.

African Lions - brothers look out for each other

African lions have strong bonds

Once they reach their physical prime, around five or six years old, these nomad male lions will start looking for their own territory and females. This is where having a brother comes as a big advantage. Trying to avoid a physical fight, they will try their best to intimidate rivals. However, they are not scared to exchange blows and these fights for dominance are often bloody and fatal.

The well-known mane of a male lion is thought to soften the blow during these bouts, as well as showing them as strong physical animals in the prime of their life.

African lions are sociable

Sociable African lions

Are male Lions lazy?

Many people think male lions are lazy, letting the females do all the work then claiming the "lion's share" of the kill. This is not always true, males can actually be very efficient hunters. However, in a stalk, their large manes often make it harder for them to hide. Female African lions are also faster in a sprint while the males being larger and heavier they are often needed to take down bigger, stronger prey.

What is the Difference Between a Lion and a House Cat?

Apart from the obvious size difference, with a large male lion being around 50 x heavier than the average house cat, they are surprisingly similar in physical characteristics. Built for the kill, your furry friends at home may have forgotten their killer instincts, but they have the body of born killer.

Retractable claws allow them to be neatly stored while not in use, keeping them clean and sharp ready for the pounce. Specially designed paws for silent movement, and fused foot bones allowing speed as well as strength when taking down prey.

We all know and love the gentle purr of our cats at home or the insistent meow when they are hungry, but one of the main differences is lions can roar, as hard as they try a house cat can't produce anything louder than a meow.

Why Do Lions Roar?

'Big' cats are large felines that belong to the Panthera - this includes lion, leopard, tiger and jaguar. All have a specialised voice box which can expand and vibrate allowing them to produce loud noises. A lions roar can be heard up to 8 km (5 miles) away and is said to be as loud as a shotgun when heard at close quarters.

The reason they roar is varied and there are many variations. The main reason is to assert their dominance, letting other lions know that they are there and ready to defend their territories if they need to. Other reasons may include re-enforcing social bonds within the pride, communicating with or locating other members of pride, or even scaring prey species towards pre-set ambushes.

Are There Lions in Victoria Falls?

The town of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe is surrounded by wilderness and wild animals, including lion, which roam through the territory. This is part of the magical charm of the place, it's wild, yet civilised.

The town itself is safe from lions but if you just venture to the outskirts, one needs to be very aware of the presence of these potentially dangerous animals.

Just on the doorstep of Victoria Falls there are also several game parks that are home to lion prides. In Zambezi National Park and Chobe National Park, lions are often seen. Hwange National Park, 1 to 2 hours away from Victoria Falls has areas which have the highest concentrations of lion in the country.

Lions and elephants in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe

Lions in Hwange National Park

If you are thinking about an African safari please contact us to help your plan your perfect holiday. With our intimate local knowledge we can ensure that you get exactly what you are looking for.

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