The lion is a mammal and a separate species. Like the tiger, it belongs to the cat family and therefore to the predators. The lion is often called the "king of the beasts". With his big mane the male is very conspicuous.
In the nature it lives today only in the middle and southern Africa. In India there are wild lions only in one national park. In the past it was found in almost all of Africa, as well as in the area between Greece and India. You can see lions in many zoos, but rarely trained in circuses anymore.
An adult lion is one and a quarter meters high at the shoulders. Males weigh on average 190 kilograms and females 125 kilograms. Females can be easily distinguished from males because they appear much more petite. The females also have no mane. Lions can purr just like our house cats, but only when they exhale. The fur is sand-colored and carries no pattern.
The lion appears in many legends, fairy tales and movies. Even in ancient times, it was revered for its majestic appearance and depicted on vases and murals. It is an important heraldic animal. Many kings have named themselves after it, for example Richard the Lionheart. They can also be found in the sky: In the northern sky there is the constellation of the lion, one of the signs of the zodiac.
How do lions live?
Lions are the only predatory cats that live in a pride. These include some females, mostly related to each other, and their children. To the pack belong also some males, usually about three. They are not necessarily related to each other. The males rule over the females, but they also defend the females. A pride can include up to thirty animals.
Each pride claims a territory for itself. The size of the territory depends on the number of animals in the pride, but also on the number of prey animals. A territory can be so large that a human would need two to three weeks to walk around it. The borders mark the lions with their excrement and urine, but also with loud roaring.
Young males spend about two to three years in their pride and are then driven away. They roam and join up with other younger males. When they feel strong enough, they attack the males of another pride. If they win, the females belong to them. The small lions usually bite them to death so that they can make their own cubs. The attacked males die or are injured. Then they die because they can no longer hunt enough prey.
Lions hunt at night or early in the morning. Their prey are zebras, antelopes, gazelles and buffalos. Even young elephants and hippos can beat them in a big pack. But they do not defeat adult rhinos. Often you hear that only the females hunt and the males then feed on the prey. But this is not true.
Lions can run very fast, but they do not last long. In addition, many prey are faster. So lions stalk as close as possible and then accelerate at full speed. In addition they make very far jumps. Nevertheless, at most every third attack leads to success, sometimes only every seventh.
How lions reproduce?
Only the leader of the pride is allowed to mate with the females. The mother lion carries the cubs in her belly for about four months. They give birth to one to four cubs at a time and nurse them with their milk. So long they stay in a hiding place. Then the mother brings them to the pride.
Cubs suck milk from other females in the pride until they are about six months old. The mothers also raise the cubs together. Even without milk the young stay with the mother for about two years. Then they are sexually mature, so they can have cubs of their own.
Female lions can live up to twenty years. The males are usually killed or driven away by younger males beforehand. They find then no more herd and starve to death.
Are lions endangered?
As a whole species, lions are not endangered. But there are several subspecies. Some of them are already extinct, others are endangered.
South of the equator in Africa and in eastern Africa live still most lions. The different subspecies are related to each other. But they cannot meet each other, because there are very long distances between them. Many live in national parks and are not endangered. But many governments are fighting for it, because there are still many poachers.
Between the Sahara and the rainforest also live interrelated lions. However, they are very different from the groups in the south. There are also long distances between their habitats. Some subspecies are likely to survive, others are threatened with extinction.
The third group is very small and related to the lions south of the Sahara. It is the Asiatic lion, which one also Persian lion or Indian lion calls. He lives today only in the Gir-Natiionalpark on a peninsula which belongs to India. It was almost exterminated. A good hundred years ago, there were only about twenty animals left. Today there are again against three hundred. But because there were once so few animals, their genes are very similar. This could easily lead to deformities and diseases. It is therefore not certain whether and how this subspecies will continue to exist.
A fourth group has long been extinct. The cave lion lived in Europe, North Asia and in Alaska. From him, however, there are only fossils and bone finds from caves. Also the American lion and some other subspecies fared similarly.
There are many lions from different regions living in zoos today. Young animals are often exchanged so that they mix better and produce healthy offspring. But there are fewer and fewer lions in the circus. There their territory is much too small and they cannot lead a life as it is usual in nature.