Lions – Main Page

Lions are the easiest of the large cats to see in Africa. As the top predators on the continent, they have little to fear from other animals. They are disturbed only by elephants or if outnumbered by a pack of hyenas. Lions spend most of the day sleeping out in the open or under trees along the fringe of the grasslands.

They are quite habituated to vehicles and will allow them to come very close, even with cubs around or while feeding or mating. In Botswana, Zimbabwe, southern Tanzania and South Africa, the vehicles are quite open (as opposed to the vans in Kenya and northern Tanzania) and it is a strange feeling to be only several feet from a predator that could easily jump into the vehicle if it wanted to. Lions will, however, avoid people on foot – especially the Maasai, who have traditionally killed them as a display of manhood and to safeguard their cattle. Just the sight of a Maasai's red robe in the distance makes the lion hunker down and keep a low profile.

Lions are the only members of the cat family to live in social groups. The "prides" are groups of related females (that take charge of the hunting), and their offspring. The females take joint responsibility looking after the cubs and an unruly youngster is as apt to be disciplined by one of his aunts as his mother. While adult lions spend up to twenty hours a day resting, the cubs always seem to have enough energy for play.

Males leave the pride when they are about two and a half years old and, until older and stronger, roam as individuals in search of a territory. One dominant male, which has fought for and won his own territory, will mate with all the female members of a pride. A newly dominant male taking over a pride will often kill any cubs sired by his predecessor, which brings the mother quickly into estrus so the new male can pass on his genes.

The males have evolved primarily to win battles among themselves and to attract the interest of females (at least the successful ones have). As a result, they can become too large to hunt efficiently and usually act as scavengers helping themselves to the kills made by others – typically the females of a pride. The large manes serve both to protect the males in fights with one another and to offer an impressive display to females. The males patrol and mark a large territory and expend a lot of energy keeping rivals away. The males are only mildly tolerant of the cubs (even their own) and are far more likely to give them a nasty growl or a swat than to play with them.

Related Pages: Lions Feeding (not for the overly squeamish) and Lions Mating (rated PG).