I started my Big Five blogs with articles about leopards and buffalo. Today is the turn of the mighty lion – one of the most impressive animals in Africa. We’ve been fortunate enough to spend holidays in Botswana’s national parks, as well as Etosha, Kruger National Park and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, all of which have magnificent pride of African lions. One of the most exciting things when camping in the wild is to lie in bed at night and hear the deep roar of a lion. They can be heard from up to five kilometres away, but it sounds closer and that booming roar always sends a tingle up my spine.
Lions are sociable animals, living in pride of ten or more lions. The male is the great protector of his pride and he usually has a number of lionesses in his harem, all related, that take care of the hunting and the provision of food. The females work in unison once they decide on which animal they are stalking and they plan their attack from all fronts. Once the animal is downed, the male then comes in to eat first, followed by the females and lastly the cubs.
You can read all about a lion kill that we came across in the Central Kalahari by clicking here. It was so exciting to be able to park the car meters away from the feeding lions and spend many hours watching the drama of hierarchy unfold as they all got stuck into their meal. Lions can eat up to 18 kgs of meat at a time, which is probably why, once sated, they sleep for the next twenty hours or so. They mainly kill at night and then sleep off their excesses during the heat of the day. Look at the size of the full belly of this lioness after she had gorged herself on an Oryx – she lay on her back with her legs in the air for hours afterwards.
Females usually have between two and four cubs that are born after a gestation period of one hundred and ten days. They mate all year round and once the cubs are born they are protected and fed by all the lionesses in the pride. They love to romp and play and are very affectionate towards one another, although male lions have been known to kill their own cubs under certain circumstances.
Lionesses take up to four years to reach their adult size, whilst male lions mature after six years. Males develop a beautiful mane around their necks which makes the sexes easily identifiable. In the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park one can see the red-maned lions which are very impressive. Even more so when you see them on red sand dunes! They can live up to fifteen years in the wild, although this is not really common as they fight continually with competitors in both the lion and predator arena.
Lions are also known as Panthera leo from the family Felidae.