The lion is often termed the ‘king of the jungle’. Although this iconic animal is regal in appearance, it is a misnomer as they live in the African savannah and prefer the open plains to make hunting easier. The confusion comes about because the word ‘jungle’ in Hindi denotes an area of wilderness.
Historically lions were found in most of Africa, parts of southern Europe, and Asia. Today they can only be found in a much smaller portion of Africa and their numbers have dwindled to only 20 000, a drop of 50% in the last 30 years. In Namibia, they can be found in Etosha, Khaudom, the Zambezi and Kunene regions. Desert-adapted lions roam in the arid wilderness west of Etosha but human conflict has meant that their survival is precarious. If interested in these Namibian lions then we highly recommend purchasing ‘Vanishing Kings – Lions of the Namib Desert’.
Lions are the second largest cat species in the world after tigers. Adult males are easily distinguished from females by their distinctive mane of thick, long hair around their heads and necks. Females are smaller and more agile making them better hunters.
Unlike other cats, lions are social creatures and live in a group called a pride. This consists of an alpha male, related females and their cubs. Males that have left their maternal homes also band together although very few male cubs ever manage to survive to adulthood and overthrow another male to create their own pride. The different sexes have very different roles within the pride. Males protect their cubs and guard their territory whereas females are the main hunters, working as a team to bring down prey. Lions can sleep up to 20 hours a day, especially when hot. Although both sexes can roar, often to locate other members of the pride, it is the males who are more vocal, warning other males to stay away from their territory. Their roar can be heard up to 8km away.
Females in a pride have their cubs around the same time, forming a crèche group that allows them better protection and helps with nursing the young. Gestation period is about 4 months and litters are generally 3 cubs. They suckle on milk until they are about 6 months old although they start eating meat after 12 weeks. They do not start actively hunting until they are around a year old and do not become fully independent until 2. If a rival male takes over a pride then they will kill all the young cubs in order to start siring their own bloodline. Infanticide accounts for a quarter of all cub deaths.