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The Lion

Panthera leo

The Lion

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Felidae
Genus: Panthera
Species: P. leo

Description:

There are eight subspecies of lion that are recognized by the differences in their size, mane and range. Lions are the second heaviest cat, only surpassed in weight by tigers. The lion is also the tallest of the big cat species. They are the only member of the Felidae family to have a tuft on the end of their tail, and to have manes.

Characteristics:

  • Light yellow to buff in color
  • Lighter underside
  • Long narrow tail with black tuff at end
  • Long canine teeth
  • Powerful jaw
  • Powerful legs, with paws and claws
  • Females weigh 260 – 400 lbs
  • Males weigh 330 - 550 lbs
  • Male lions have long manes, blonde to black in color
  • Females do not have any mane
  • Head and body length 5.5 to 8.5 feet for males
  • Head and body length 4.5 to 5.10 feet for females


The male and female lions have a very obvious and different physical appearances (Sexual dimorphism). The long, heavy mane is unique to the male lion, which sets the male lion apart from his female counterpart. The mane and the tail tuft are unique to the Panthera leo (lion). The mane is one of the most unique characteristics of this species. The purpose of the tail tuft is unknown, but the mane of the male lion serves several purposes.

A male lion looks larger because of its mane.

A male lion looks larger because of its mane.

The Mane

A male lion looks larger because of its mane. This may provide a unique intimidation factor when confronting other male lions or competitors for food resources. The darkness and density of the male lions mane projects health and vitality. Female lions prefer males with dark, heavy manes.

The mane of the male can make hunting difficult. The mane gets in the way when stalking a prey when camouflage is key. It also causes the male to overheat faster than the female. This is not a problem as the lions have specific gender roles and the females are the primary hunters in the pride.

Lions communicate physically and vocally. They are often seen rubbing heads and licking each other’s faces and necks. Their facial expressions and gestures are a form of communication to other pride members. Lions can make a range of sounds including snarling, roaring, purring, hissing, coughing, miaowing and woofing. Their roar is a signal to announce their presence in an area. It can be heard up to five miles away. It is the loudest roar of all cat species.

Range and Habitat

• Savannahs, grasslands, semi desert and forest areas
• Africa, Eurasia, India

Life Cycle:

Female lions are ready to breed between the ages of three and four years. They can mate anytime of the year. Males are mature at three years of age. When females are in heat, they may mate up to 40 times per day and with more than one male. The gestation period is about 110 days and a litter contains anywhere from one to four cubs. Females leave the pride for a secluded birthing area in a thicket or den of some sort.

Born blind, the cubs don’t begin to open their eyes for about a week. They weigh about 2.5 to 4.5 lbs at birth. They can crawl and move about the den after a few days. They don’t begin walking until they reach three to four weeks of age. A female will move her den several times a month to prevent predators from discovering her cubs. The new family rejoins the pride when the cubs are about two months old. If a pride has several lionesses giving birth at the same time, they may stay together to feed and care for the young cubs. Cubs are weaned at around six to seven months of age.

  • Females reach sexual maturity by age four
  • When in heat, couples may breed 20 to 40 times a day for several days
  • Cubs begin hunting at age one, and become proficient by age two
  • 10 – 14 years in the wild (20 years + in captivity)
  • Young males leave pride at two or three years maturity
  • More than 80% of cubs die before age two

Behavior:

Lions are very social cats. They live in groups called prides that consist of a group of females, their offspring and a small number of male lions. Most of the lion’s day is spent resting or sleeping for about 20 hours. Lions hunt more at night and are more active in late afternoons and early evening hours. At night they hunt and walk for about two hours and can spend up to an hour eating.

  • Young males leave the pride when they reach maturity (2-3 years)
  • Females may leave the pride to become nomadic
  • Males defend their position in the pride by keeping other males out
  • Females do not allow outsiders into the pride
  • Pride membership changes with births or deaths of lionesses


Males defend their position in their pride and ward off other males. They breed as frequently as possible, producing many offspring. When young male lions reach maturity, they leave the pride to find another pride to join. The young male will need to challenge older males, and to win, in order to oust another male from a pride he wants to join. Once a male is removed from a pride, he is usually unsuccessful in joining another. Lone males will be nomads or travel in pairs with other males from their litter. When a mature male is successful in overtaking another’s position in a pride, he will then proceed to kill any cubs under one to two years of age. Or they will be evicted from the pride. This includes young males as well as females.

Other pride membership changes occur when the pride becomes too big. Some of the younger male and female lions are chased off to form their own pride or to become nomads. Without the protection of a pride, a lioness has little chance of successfully raising her young cubs alone.

The female lions do most of the hunting.

The female lions do most of the hunting.

Diet:

Lions are predatory animals whose prey includes a variety of mammals weighing anywhere from 420 – 1200 lbs. Kudu, gazelle, springbok, wild boar, deer, buffalo, warthogs, wildebeest, impalas and zebras are just some of the animals that fall prey to lions. They also scavenge kills made by other competitors.

The female lions do most of the hunting in organized groups. They stalk their prey, and when they reach within about 100 feet or closer, they chase the victim, lunge and pull down their target. They use their powerful jaws to strangulate or asphixiate their prey. Their sharp claws can also kill smaller victims.

Females most often make the kill and step back while the males eat first. The females and cubs eat after males. Often young cubs may starve if they are smaller or younger than other cubs in the pride. Males eat about 15 lbs of meat per day and females about 11 lbs.

Spotted hyenas are direct competitors with lions for food and territory. Some lion prides steal the kills of hyenas as a large percentage of their food intake. This in turn motivates the hyenas to kill more. Hyenas will sometimes be brave enough to feed next to lions on the same kill, but more often they will wait at a safe distance until the lions abandon the kill to come in and devour what is left behind.

Predators:

Human population growth in lion habitats, poaching and hunting are the main causes of reduced lion numbers. Other predators include leopards, cheetahs, hyenas and wild dogs. The lions may kill these predators, but they most often will not eat them. Lion cubs may die of starvation, be killed by the predators noted above, or fall victim to eagles, snakes or stampeding prey. Cubs are sometimes killed by outside male lions that have competed with males in the pride and taken their positions. The death of cubs will trigger new ovulation in lionesses. Aside from humans, the Nile Crocodile is the only other known predator of lions, that can be a sincere threat to an adult lion.

Interesting Facts

  • The lion is the second heaviest feline (Tiger is the heaviest)
  • Lion is the tallest feline
  • Loudest roar of any big cat
  • Their roar can be heard up to 5 miles away


To honor the lion and help safeguard its preservation for future generations, MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas has created a one-of-a-kind Lion Habitat as a showcase for public education and appreciation for this majestic creature of nature.

The Lion Habitat was opened in July of 1999. The habitat has glass walls and a glass tunnel to allow excellent viewing and photo opportunities of the majestic lions. The trainers are in the habitat with the lions and you can often observe them playing with the felines or feeding them. They do spend a lot of time napping and lounging in the habitat, but the close proximity and excellent views make a visit to the habitat worthwhile.

There are 26 lions in total that live on a nearby 8.5-acre ranch, where they spend most of their time. They are rotated into and out of the habitat over a period of six hours per day. Only two lions are on display at a time and they split the 6-hour display time between several pairs of lions. Exotic animal trainer Keith Evans owns and cares for the lions that are on display at the Habitat. He has more than 30 years experience training lions and exotic animals. Evans is world-renowned for his work with exotic animals and his wildlife conservation efforts. Here is a video taken in the Casino in Las Vagas.

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