The African Lion The lion is known as king of the jungle because of its huge size and ferocious appearance, the most common type of lion is the African lion. The African lion has the genus species Panthera (panther, leopard) leo (lion). Panthera leo has the common name lion and comes from the felidae family. Panthera leo is in the mammali class and has the order carnivora(Bush Gardens, 1996).
Lions live in sub-Saharan Africa in grasslands and semi-arid plains in prides which is a group of lions that live in the same area and share hunting duties(Bush Gardens,1996). Lions are the only truly social cat species, usually a pride consists of two males, seven females, and any amount of cubs. The lionesses are usually sisters or cousins that have all been together since birth. The average mature male stands four feet at the shoulder, weighs in around 450 pounds and is around eight and a half feet long plus his tail.
The female on the other hand is considerably smaller and weighs in at a average of three hundred pounds. Lions usually have a light or dark brown plain spotless coat, white coated lions are sometimes found in southern Africa but they are not true albinos (African Savannah). The male lion reaches sexual maturity at the age of five years and the lioness- which is the female lion, reaches its sexual maturity at the age of four. Lionesses in a pride usually enter breeding season together and later give birth at the same time which allows the lionesses to share nursing and other maternal duties.
The lioness is pregnant between 98 and 105 days until it gives birth to a average of 3 cubs, unfortunately only one of those cubs will survive the first year of life due to the harsh conditions in their habitats (Bush Gardens, 1996). At birth the cubs are blind and move very slow. The cubs weigh less than five pounds (Wild Animals) and are marked with spots which sometimes stay on their legs and belly until they are fully grown. (African Savannah). When the cubs reach five months of age, they weigh an average of fifty pounds but they still act playful like a kitten. In most cases, when the cub reaches nine months of age, their spots disappear.
When the cubs come to the age of a year and a half, the mother teaches them to hunt (Comptons 1993, 1994). The male lions have a brown mane which grows darker and fuller as the lion ages (African Savannah) and at the age of three the mane slowly starts to show up. The average lion in the wild that lives past the age of one lives between 15 and 18 years and reaches its prime or time it is the strongest at the age of eight (African Savannah). Lions eat a variety of different prey and usually hunt at night(Comptons,1993, 1994-African Savannah). They prefer to eat wildebeast more than anything else, unfortunately they can only do so when migration brings the herds through the prides range.
When the wildebeast herds are not migrating they eat buffalo, zebra, antelope, giraffe, and warthogs (African Savannah). When prey cant be caught, lions will steal food from other animals-usually from the hyenas. If absolutely no food can be found, lions will have to go to a last resort of eating snakes, termites, peanuts, fruits, and even rotten wood (Wild Animals). Although only one out of four hunting events is successful, dominant males always eat first, lionesses next, and the cubs are forced to fight for scraps and leftovers (Bush Gardens, 1996). Due to the fact the lion is inactive up to twenty-one hours a day and does all their hunting at night, they have to be able to see at night (Bush Gardens, 1996). The size of lions eyes are bigger than humans and lions only need one sixth of the amount of light humans need to be able to see (Garman, 1997).
Lions also have many other special characteristics that help them hunt and survive, some are listed below. The adult lions roar can be herd up to five miles away, this can be a warning that there is intruders or it can help guide strayed members of the pride back to the pride. The lion can also run up to thirty miles per hour when it is trying to catch its prey, but they can only go this fast for a limited time(Bush Gardens, 1996). The lion also is a digitgrade which means they walk on their toes and this makes it so when they walk it does not make any noise.
The male lions mane is not just for looks either, it makes the lion seem bigger than he actually is and it also protects his throat when he gets in fights (African Savannah). The color of the lion is another thing that helps it survive in the wild. The lions fur is the same color as sun-dried grass, that makes it so they can slide across the plains, sneak up on their prey and attack (Comptons, 1993, 1994). So if you put all these special characteristics together you can see why the lion is called king of the jungle.
Although lions may be king of the jungle, they are considered to be a threatened species. In 1991, only 200,000 African lions were left. Lions very rarely attack humans but over one hundred and fifty people were attacked by lions in Gir National Park alone (African Savannah). One reason why the lions attack is because they grow old and become to slow to be able to catch their prey. Another reason why lions might attack is because occasionally a lion cub some how gets a taste of human blood and after that he might continue to kill humans (Comptons 1993, 1994).
The Lion is a very important animal for Africa. As described in the Disney movie The Lion King the lion keeps the circle of life moving. The lion keeps the gazelle population down by eating them, the gazelle meat keeps the lion alive, when the lion dies he fertilizes the grass, the grass grows and gives the gazelle food, and the circle just keeps going and going and going, but the gazelle isnt the only animal involved in the circle, it can be almost any animal. So as you realize it is very important that the lion stays alive, if there is only 200,000 lions left today, that means you could have no lions left at all ten years from now.