LION FACT FILE

by Wildlife South Africa


LION
Latin Name: Panthera leo
Afrikaans: LEEU
 
Distribution in South Africa:
 
Lions used to occur throughout South Africa but due to their merciless persecution in South Africa (due to conflict with humans and their interests), they are now mainly restricted to protected areas. They only occur naturally in the Northern and Eastern parts of South Africa. In the north they occur naturally in mainly the Kruger National Park and surrounding Private Game reserves and farms, bordering Kruger National Park. They also occur naturally in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and in KwaZulu-Natal Parks like Hluhluwe - Imfolozi. Lions have been reintroduced to amongst others the Addo National Park, to some provincial parks and reserves as well as to private game reserves throughout South Africa.
 
Habitat:
 
They range from woodland and open savanna to desert and arid areas, wherever sufficient prey can be found.
 
 

 
Habits:
 
Lions are the largest predators in Africa. They are also the most sociable of the cat family and can live in prides of up to 20 and more. Males are territorial and will defend their pride and territory against intruders - some fights could end in death. There are usually between 1 and 4 adult males (a dominant male and other adults or often brothers of the same litter) per pride depending on the size of the territory and the size of their pride which consist of females and their cubs as well as young males.
 
Males of about two and a half years and older are driven out of the pride and also out of the pride territory by the territorial dominant adult lions. Pride sizes usually depend on the availability of prey in their territorial area as well as the size of their territory. When the territorial dominant adult male lion or lions die or lose a fight and a new male or males take over – young cubs will usually be killed by the new territorial male or males in order to father their own offspring.
 
Some prides will also wander for a long period of time without settling into a territory.
 
Females do most of the hunting although males also hunt at times. The pride usually hunt together. At any kill of a pride the dominant male will feed first following other males and then the females. The cubs will feed last when the others had their fill. Lions hunt by stealth. They stalk their prey or wait in ambush near water until the prey animal is close enough to pounce upon. Lions often are opportunistic hunters in the sense that they will kill when an opportunity arise.
 
Lions will also kill any predator if they get a chance and often kill the young of leopard, jackal, hyena, cheetah, honey badger, caracal, wild dog and civet amongst others, to naturally eliminate competition for food and territory. They will not always eat these animals, but sometimes might.
 
Day or night:
 
Lions are mainly active during night time although they do sometimes hunt by day should an opportunity presents itself, or in cold weather. During the heat of the day they usually rest or lie down in the shade, or on colder days in dry riverbeds and near waterholes. They can also be found resting near carcasses of a kill they made during the night.
 
Difference between male (Lion) and female (Lioness):
Males are much larger and heavier than females which are of a more slender build - adult males usually have large manes where females do not.
 
Mass:
 
Male: 170 to 235 kg
Female: 130 to 200 kg
 
Reproduction:
 
Lions mate repeatedly (some say every 15 minutes) over a period of 2 to 3 days. They have no specific breeding season. Adult male lions may at times have serious confrontations when battles over a female (Lioness) ensue, at times leading to serious injury or even death for one or both of the lions.
 
Gestation period:
 
110 days. 1 to 6 cubs are born and they can remain with their mothers up to 2 years. Cubs are born away from the pride and after a few days the lioness will return to the pride with her cubs of a few days old.
 
Lifespan:
 
Average about 15 years.
 
Diet / Food and water:
 
Lions are opportunistic hunters. They will eat anything from termites to an elephant if they can. Depending on their territory and the species of prey available in the area they usually hunt medium to large size animals like wildebeest, impala, zebra, waterbuck, kudu, buffalo and giraffe amongst others and even in some cases hippos, young rhinos and elephants. Giraffe have been known to inflict serious injuries to lions and often kill lions, while defending themselves by kicking at the lions, especially with their hind legs.
 
Lions are often found following large or smaller herds of buffalo while waiting for a chance to catch and kill one, although buffaloes are not that easy to catch due to the fact that they will not always run away but will group together (often forming a circle around the young) and try to stand their ground in an effort to defend their young and each other. Lions are also often injured or killed by buffaloes, especially by the bulls which can cause a lot of damage with their horns as well as by stomping on the lions with their hard hooves.
 
Depending on the opportunity lions will often eat carrion or carcasses. They will nearly always take over the kills of other predators like jackals, hyenas, cheetahs, African Wild dogs or leopards. Lions will also eat a variety of smaller prey that can vary from termites, frogs, lizards, tortoises, porcupines, small rodents to birds like guineafowl, francolin, etc.
 
Enemies:
 
Adult lions do not have many natural enemies except in some cases Hyenas (especially a pack / pride of hyenas at a carcass) and humans. However due to the fierce natural competition for food and territory, Leopard, Hyena, African Wild Dog, Cheetah and Jackal will kill lion cubs when the opportunity rises. Pythons, Crocodile and especially humans can also be enemies of Lions and their cubs.
 
Status:
 
Natural populations of Lions are declining in South Africa. Lion populations at times contract tuberculosis and other diseases in certain parts of the Kruger.
 
Interesting Facts:
 
Although lions are not the largest, nor the most powerful of all animals, male lions are often referred to as the King of the Jungle due to their regal posture.
 
Also one of the big 5 animals, a term coined by hunters of old because of the degree of danger involved in hunting lions. There are many reports, since centuries ago, of hunters being injured or killed through the years while trying to hunt lions.
 
A Male lion's roars can be heard on a quiet night over 6 km. Lions often roar after a kill or when members of a pride are trying to locate each other. Lionesses have a soft short roar that they utter when calling their cubs.
 
Extreme colour variations and genes in some lions have caused a small number of lions to be born completely white. The most famous of these lions were captured around the Timbavati area in and around the Kruger National Park. There are still a few breeding stations that are trying to breed with white lions.
 
References & Sources:
 
The Mammals of the Southern African Subregion, 
Revised by D Skinner & Christian T Chimumba
Cambridge University Press 2005
 
Field Guide to Mammals of Southern Africa
Chris & Tilde Stuart
Struik Publishers
Third edition 2003
 
The Mammal Guide of Southern Africa
Burger Cillié
Briza Publications
2004
 
Maberly's Mammals of Southern Africa - A popular Field Guide
A revision by Richard Goss of Charles Astley Maberly's
- The Game Animals of Southern Africa
Delta Books (Pty) Ltd
1986
 
Research:
Johan van der Walt