Lion, one of the biggest species of cats in the world, has forever been regarded as a symbol of strength, power, and ferocity. Typically inhabiting savanna and grassland regions, Lions can be found in sub- Saharan Africa and some regions of Eurasia. Studies suggest that lions were the second biggest and most widespread species of mammals after humans some 10,000 years ago. They have been symbols of pride and honor in many cultures and empires. Their face, especially the male’s, with the magnificent mane, has been one of the most recognizable symbols in historic tales of war and victory. They can be found on paintings, flags, crests, and in contemporary art and literature.
While the tiger, jaguar, and the leopard are the lion’s closest relatives in the genus Panthera, they have some differences in terms of general traits and behavior. They have also been one of the most popular animals for exhibition in zoos worldwide and are a major part of breeding program cooperation between various zoos and reserves.
Here are 10 interesting and quite astonishing facts about the King of the Jungle.
10. Social Cats
Lions, especially the major subspecies found in Africa are unusually social, which is not common in other big wild cat species. Lions are known to live and move around in packs of 15 or more, commonly known as ‘Prides’. These groups include about 2-4 males, along with a large group of females and cubs. This is because younger male lions are sent out of the prides when they reach a certain age to survive and lead a pride themselves. A majority of these young males die to various reasons like illness, starvation etc. The ones who survive and are able to lead small packs form their own prides.
9. Only Meat please!
Lions are ‘obligate carnivores’, which means that they can survive only on meat of animals and water. Researchers claim that one of the reasons for this is their ancestral diet, as they have lost the ability to naturally produce some vitamins and amino acids. Also, it is not only any kind of flesh that Lions are specifically adapted to, it is raw flesh that suits them the best. They have the shortest digestive tract compared to the body size of almost any mammal.
8. The roar is not all
A lion’s roar can be heard from as far as 5 miles (or 8 kilometers). Lions use their roars to communicate their position to other prides present in the nearby regions or to check on a member who is out for hunting or gets left behind due to some reason. Their vocalizations vary quite extensively in pitch and intensity. Apart from the roars, Lions are also known to communicate through vocalizations like purrs, snarls, miaws, and hissing.
7. You can’t see them, but they can see you
Lions have an impressive night vision which makes them 6 times more sensitive to light than the average human. Combined with a highly developed sense of smell and incredible hearing, lions have a substantial amount of advantage over their prey. There are more rod cells than cone cells in their eyes which makes their eyes more sensitive to light but reduces the number of colors they can perceive. The photoreceptors in their eyes are extremely sensitive and don’t need more than 1/4th of the light humans need to see something. A reflective layer at the back of the eye also allows them to enhance the absorption of light rays on the rod cells. This layer also creates a distinct eye shine which can be seen clearly at night.
6. As lazy as a Lion
Lions are known to be very lazy and can sleep up to 20 hours in a single day. Their movement during the day is erratic and unpredictable. Since their bodies don’t have a lot of sweat glands, they prefer to stay active at night when the surroundings are cooler and they can spend less energy in their tasks. Lions can be found visiting watering holes during twilight. Research suggests that they may be crepuscular and that dawn and dusk are the best times to find them in a wild reserve.
5. We were raised together
Lionesses are caring mothers and raise all the cubs of a pride together. They make sure that no cub is neglected and each one is nurtured and loved properly. Two or more lionesses in a pride tend to give birth to cubs at the same time and then go on to raise them together. Researchers believe this makes them understand the concept of a pride and how to live in one in their future. The cubs are extremely playful and spend a lot of time playing with each other. The cubs are usually born inside secluded dens where they are kept and raised until they are capable of roaming outside with the pride.
4. Story of the mane
The mane of the male Lion is unique and is not found in any other known species of cats. It makes the lion look larger and more intimidating. It also acts a signal of maturity and health status; lionesses prefer darker and denser manes. Lions with denser manes are often made the leaders of the pride. The mane color and texture varies in the different subspecies and is not common in all subspecies. On an average, lions have a 50 % chance of growing a large and dense mane. The darkness also signifies the age of the lion as the mane gets darker with age.
3. Lazy but not slow
Lions can run short distances at a speed of 80 kilometers per hour and can leap as far as 30 feet. Since their stamina is poorer than most of their preys, they tend to attack in coordinated groups. When the prey is trapped between the group of lionesses, they burst into short sprints and leap to catch it. The average speed of a lion is about 50 kilometers, more than the average speed of many other animals. This, combined with their might and ferocity, makes them an apex predator and gets them a spot at the top of the food chain.
2. Eat it easy
Lions obtain more than 50 % of their food from scavenging. While lionesses from each pride try to go on hunts and get enough food for the pride, the requirements of the pride far outweigh their catch. Lions need an average of 6 kg of food or more a day. They go for animals which die due to natural causes or are killed other predators. They also look for vulture groups which helps them find dead animals which aren’t taken by any other predator.
1. Lions – Tiglons – Leopons and so on
Lions are bred with tigers, leopards, and jaguars. The hybrids with tigers are called ligers and tiglons, with leopards they are called leopons, and with jaguars they are called jaglions. Some naturally occurring spotted lions are natural hybrids but are extremely difficult to find. Many zoos promote the art of cross breeding but researchers have discouraged this to conserve the original species from the ill effects of cross breeding. Some lions are affected with a condition known as leucism and thus, have paler coloration than a normal lion. This causes their skin to be relatively fairer in color and they develop a white or cream colored coat.
These are some amazing facts about one of the most magnificent mammals to walk on the face of the earth. Unfortunately, they are threatened due to habitat loss and except for the exception of the Asiatic lion in Gujarat in India they can only be found in a few reserves in Africa and in falling numbers. The species has been listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It’s time that we protect the natural habitat of these creatures and avoid creating conditions that may even lead to their extinction.