Lions: Kings of the savannah
Like no other animal, the lion – as the largest big cat in Africa – is a symbol for the beauty and uniqueness of the African continent. Learn more about this fascinating "Big Five" respresentative in the following blog.
The lion is the biggest predator cat in Africa and is a symbol for the beauty and uniqueness of the African continent like no other animal. At the same time the lion symbolizes the danger that the pristine nature of Africa is in and the necessity to protect the African flora and fauna.
Everyone knows these fascinating and majestic predator cats which can be found in Africa and the state of Gujarat in India, at least from the movie “The Lion King”. The lion (Panthera leo) is a member of the cat family and native to the popular domestic cat. With a shoulder height of around 120 cm and a body weight of up to 200 kg, the lion is the second tallest cat on earth and the biggest land-living predator in Africa. The male lion can be identified by their famous mane, which is usually missing among the female lions. There have been cases where female lions with a mane have been observed, for example in the Okavango Delta. The reason for this phenomenon is not yet discovered.
Lions are not solitary like other cats but live in packs. Therefore, they have developed a strong social behaviour with a strict hierarchy within the pack. Related females and their cubs often form the core of a pack. These are protected by a coalition of adult males. The alpha male must defend his position every two to three years. If he is defeated in a fight by a younger and stronger male, he must pass his position as a leader onto the winner. Most of the time this will lead to a so-called infanticide, when the offspring of the precursor gets killed so that the females will get ready to mate again as soon as possible and the new leader can pass on his genes. The females, though, stay in the pack they are born in for their whole life. The size of the pack varies between 3 and 30 animals.
Lions are known to be very adaptable. Their preferred habitat is in the savannah but they also can be found in dry forests and semideserts. Even though the historical distribution range of the species was reaching up to the south eastern parts of Europe, today their main habitat is south of the Sahara. In the 1940s the lion became extinct north of the Sahara. In India, only a few individuals remained in the federal state of Gujarat in Gir National Park.
Overall, the African lion is listed as an endangered species. The IUCN estimates that only between 16,000 and 30,000 lions are still living in the wild. The population has decreased between 30 to 50 percent over the last 20 years. The main reason for the massive decline is for one the loss of habitat because of farming and livestock, as well as poaching. Especially the heads and paws of lions are popular hunting trophies and the bones are supposed to have healing abilities in Asia.
Another problem is the risk of infectious diseases. Particularly the lion population of Kruger National park is suffering from the FI-Virus, also known as “feline AIDS”. The infection of the immune system poses no danger to humans, but mostly ends deadly for the lion. A healthy and stable population can cope with the effects of this disease which is why it is important to protect the remaining animals and stabilize the population.
Many of the Natucate projects, such as a safari in Botswana, South Africa or Zambia, offer the chance to learn more about lions and to observe these fascinating animals in the wild.