Lions are considered the “kings of beasts” and have always fascinated people. Male lions in particular impress with their large mane and their mighty roar.
What do lions look like?
Lions belong to the order of carnivores and there to the cat family and to the big cat genus. Next to the tigers they are the largest cats of prey on earth:
They are up to 180 centimeters long, the tail measures an additional 70 to 100 centimeters, the shoulder height is 75 to 110 centimeters and they weigh between 120 and 250 kilograms.Females are significantly smaller, weighing just 150 kilograms on average. The lion’s fur is yellowish-brown to reddish or dark brown, and is slightly lighter on the belly.
The tail is hairy and has a black tassel at the end. The unmistakable feature of the males is the huge mane, which is darker in color than the rest of the fur. The mane can be black-brown to red-brown, but also yellowish-brown and reaches from the cheeks over the shoulder to the chest or even to the belly. The mane of the males only develops when they are about five years old. Females lack it altogether, and male Asiatic lions have a less pronounced mane.
Where do lions live?
Today, lions are only found in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as in a small wildlife sanctuary on the Kathiawar peninsula in the Indian state of Gujarat. They used to be widespread from North to South Africa and from the Near East to the whole of India.
Lions live mainly in the savannah, but they can also be found in dry forests and semi-deserts.On the other hand, they cannot survive in humid tropical forests or in real deserts where there are no water holes.
What types of lions are there?
Depending on their area of origin, lions differ in size: the mightiest animals live in southern Africa, the most delicate in Asia. In addition to lions, the big cat family includes tigers, leopards and jaguars.
How old do lions get?
On average, lions live to be 14 to 20 years old. In zoos, lions can even live to be over 30 years old. Males usually die earlier in the wild because they are driven away by young competitors. If they don’t find a new pack, they usually starve because they can’t hunt enough on their own.
How do lions live?
Lions are the only big cats that live in prides. A pack consists of one to three males and up to 20 females and their young. The most powerful male can usually be recognized by the particularly long and dark mane. It indicates that the pack leader is fit, healthy and ready to fight. The mane probably serves to protect the males from injuries caused by bites and paws during fights.
In addition, female lions prefer males with well-developed manes. Conversely, smaller-maned males avoid large-maned lions because they know they are dealing with a powerful rival. The place at the top of the pack is hotly contested: the leader usually has to give way to another male lion after two to three years. Often the new head of the pack kills the cubs of the defeated lion. The females are then ready to mate more quickly.
The females usually always stay in the same pack, the males, on the other hand, have to leave the pack when they become sexually mature. They form so-called bachelor groups with other males, move around together and hunt together. Eventually, each male tries to conquer his own pack. A lion’s territory can be 20 to 400 square kilometers in size. If the animals find plenty of prey, the territory is smaller; if they find little food, it must be correspondingly larger.
Territory is marked with feces and urine. In addition, the males show with their roar that the territory belongs to them. When not hunting, lions sleep and doze for up to 20 hours a day. They are leisurely animals and cannot run very long. When hunting, however, they can reach top speeds of up to 50 kilometers per hour; but they cannot keep up this pace for long.
Because the lion’s eyes are directed forward, the animals can judge distances very well. This is very important for predators that go hunting. And because their eyes, like those of all cats, have a light-reflecting layer in the retina, they can also see very well at night. Their hearing is also very well developed: With their flexible ears, they can hear exactly where a sound is coming from.
Friends and foes of the lion
At most, buffalo or a pack of hyenas can pose a threat to an adult lion. In the past, the animals were most threatened by people who hunted them. Today, the animals are endangered by habitat destruction and diseases transmitted by prey such as buffalo.