The lion (Panthera Leo) is part of the big cat family, Felidae. A lion is an animal symbol used by a wide variety of human cultures to depict strength, superiority, courage, and more. The mighty king of the jungle often appears as sculptures, on flags, and in paintings. They also regularly appear in literature and films. Since the Roman Empire, lions were kept in confinement. And till this day they are a highly sought-after species for zoos worldwide.
The lion is a muscular big cat, with a deep chest and a short, rounded head. The male’s majestic mane is unmistakable and both males and females have a cheeky tuft of hair at the end of their tails. The male and female lions are very distinct from each other. A male can weigh between 150 to 250 kg (330 to 550 lb) and females between 120 to 182 kg (265 to 400 lb). And a lion’s roar is an unmistakable sound, echoing over the African savannah. They prefer living in the savannas and grasslands instead of forests.
Lions are mostly active during the day, but sometimes they hunt at night or twilight as well. The lion population has dwindle to Sub-Saharan Africa and they are critically endangered in western India. Since 1996 their population status is Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. A steady decline of up to 43% has been noticed since the early 90’s. The cause of the population drop is uncertain, but conflicts with humans and habitat loss are the biggest concerns.
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Interesting Facts about Lions
The king of the jungle has fascinated people for centuries. Below a few things you might not know about lions.
- There are about 20 000 lions left in the wild. In 26 African countries they are already extinct. 90% of the lions’ historical roaming grounds have disappeared.
- At the rate of expansion in Sub-Saharan Africa, it’s estimated that in 2050 lions will be extinct in the wild.
- A lion’s biggest enemy is surprisingly the porcupine. About the same size as a small dog, a porcupine is literally a thorn in the lion’s flesh. They are often tricked to sniff at the spikey nemesis and the sharp quills often get stuck in a lion’s jaw for its entire life.
- Lions are the only cat family members with a tasselled tail. These aren’t just for show, they use their fluffy tails as communication tools, either to indicate a direction change, or as a flirty “come hither” invitation.
- A lion’s claws are super sharp. But they are retractable. This way they remain sharp and it prevents accidents during play time. The claws grow in layers. As a layer reaches its end, another replaces it. A claw can measure up to 4cm (1.5 inches) from the nail base to its tip.
- The lion’s back teeth (carnassals) have a scissor-like function. This helps them to tackle a fresh piece of meat. But lions don’t really chew food, they swallow chunks from the side of their mouth.
- Male and female lions have a special way of greeting each other. They rub up against each other, sometimes so enthusiastically, one of them gets knocked over. It’s a sign of bonding, while the lions are rubbing against each other, scent markings are left behind. Sound familiar? Yes, that’s why your cat rubs against your legs.
- The African lions are rated the most social among their big cat cousins. A pride can consist of up to 15 lions.
- A male lion’s main job is to defend its pride’s territory. And the females are in charge of hunting. But the males still get to eat first.
- Before habitat loss, lions lived in Europe and Asia as well. But now most lions stay in Africa. There are only a few Asiatic lions left in the Sasan-Gir National Park, India. It’s estimated that there are only between 300 to 400 lions remaining in the park, which was created specifically to protect them.
- You can hear a lion’s roar up to 8km (5 miles) away.
- Lions can maintain a speed of 85 km/h (50 mph) for a short distance, and can leap up to 10 m (36 feet)
- The name “king of the jungle” is misleading, seeing as lions prefer the plains and grasslands. This popular term may stem from the association between jungles and Africa.
- You can gauge the age of a male lion by looking at its mane. The darker its mane, the older the lion.
- While it is walking, a lion’s heels don’t touch down on the ground.
- A lion can sleep up to 20 hours per day.