KING OF THE BEASTS
Second only in size to the tiger amongst the big cats, lions have long been associated with strength and courage. The golden fur and the male’s thick mane of black or brown hair surrounding the face is an effective means of camouflage in the tall grasses of their savannah habitat. Lions are also associated with their roar, which can be heard up to 8km/5 miles away and it’s not only the males that make this distinctive sound.
Lions live together in groups made up of about 15 animals, called a pride. This social system is unusual in big cats as most others, like leopard and cheetah, are solitary. The females do most of the hunting whilst the males are responsible for protecting the pride, which often includes young cubs. The members of the pride interact affectionately with one another and cubs are often raised together by all the females that have recently given birth. Lions are exceptionally effective hunters because they hunt as a team. They are able to work together to take down animals as large as buffalo but they are not above scavenging from other predators’ kills, which accounts for more than 50% of their diet. They are nocturnal which is why they often seem to be lazing about sleeping when you spot them on safari.
Challenges & Solutions
One of the greatest challenges facing the survival of lions in the wild is conflict with humans. Livestock such as cattle and donkeys makes for easy prey for lions, especially a lone male, and they are often killed in retaliation for this predation. This conflict could potentially have extensive effects on lion populations as well as impacting the lives and livelihoods of people living in areas surrounding their habitat and people whose livelihoods are negatively impacted by wildlife are less likely to support conservation and conservation initiatives.
There are several solutions to human-lion conflict that are being investigated by lion researchers. A successful example is the Hwange Lion Research Project’s introduction of the Long Shield Lion Guardians. This group of local people have been trained as a link between conservationists and their communities, providing information and encouraging cooperation. They monitor wildlife populations and alert local herdsmen when a lion is nearby, allowing them to move livestock to safety or to frighten the lion off. A critical factor that is highly effective in reducing lion predation is the housing of livestock in bomas overnight. The Hwange Lion Research Project is evaluating existing bomas utilised within the communities and is now working with the communities to build and encourage the use of mobile community bomas. Early trials have shown a noticeable reduction in lion predation since the introduction of the Long Shields and the boma programme.
- Scientific Name
- Panthera Leo
- 120 – 190kg, 260 – 420lbs; males up to 225kg
- 1m, 3-4ft tall; head & body 1.5-2m, 4.5-6.5ft
- Life Span
- 10-14 years
- Group Name
- Pride, avg 15 lions
- avg 105 days
- Probably Resident
Source: Wildlife Conservation Society and IUCN 2012. Panthera leo.
IUCN 2014. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.1