The lion is the biggest cat on the African plains by far, with the female version capable of taking on two of the next largest leopard. The power, grace and stark mane of the male has been revered throughout human history, with the lion gaining the title of King of Beasts in many cultures. In fact, the lions visage adorns the shields and royal crests of civilizations throughout Africa and the world beyond.
Lion Facts for Kids: Understanding the Pride
A familial collection of lions is known as a pride. Usually, a very small group of male lions - numbering from two to four - lead a large group of females and small lion cubs. There can be as many as 20 females in a single pride, with most of the cubs fathered by a single dominant male. The other males are often the brothers of the dominant one, and they help protect the pride from challenges from outside males.
When a lion cub is born, the mother leaves the pride for a little while, because the cubs are too small to keep up with them. She needs to hide them in tall grass, caves - wherever a suitable place exists. The danger comes from leopards, adult cheetahs, hyenas and even cape buffalo; all of these animals consider baby lions as a threat and will kill them when they can find them unprotected.
Another threat to the cubs is the male lion, himself. If an outsider succeeds in dethroning the current king, then he will kill every cub he can find. This brutal act serves two purposes: killing the cubs of the previous generation causes the lionesses to come back into heat, and it ensures that no genes from the dethroned lion survives. The new lion wants only his children to comprise the pride.
Lions and Their Duties
The lion can weigh from 450 to 500 pounds. The much smaller lioness weighs up to about 300 pounds, but she is very powerful, agile and fast. In fact, the lioness is much more suited to the hunt, because she doesn’t have to carry around all that muscle. Because of her agility, the lioness does most of the hunting for the pride, although the male occasionally helps take down very large prey like giraffe and a bull cape buffalo. The lion’s main job, however, is to protect the pride from challenges by other males. He does this by marking the entire territory, as a first measure. He spends most of the day sleeping, conserving his energy for explosive action when a capable threat rears its head.
Lions and the HuntLions are apex predators
, which means they have no natural enemies that hunt them for food. A group of lions have even been known to take down teenage elephants at night! Although very rare, this shows their ferocity and power, because an elephant can weigh as much as an SUV. Their normal prey consists of wildebeest, cape buffalo, zebra, warthogs, giraffe, small rodents as a snack, and anything else they can catch. Lions will kill other big cats - leopards, cheetah and the occasional jaguar - because they are competition on the African plains.
But most of all, there is no love lost between the lion and the hyena. Out of all the predators on the plains, the hyena and the lion are in the fiercest competition. They steal food from each other and eagerly kill each others’ young when they can. Although it takes many more hyenas to chase a lion off a kill than the reverse, hyenas often have the required numbers to do so.
Lion Facts for Kids: The Lion and His Mane
The most distinctive feature of the lion is his mighty mane. The more prominent this regal crest, the more ferocious and strong the lion. Lionesses strongly prefer males with better manes, and these are the ones that usually win battles with other males anyway. A good mane is considered full and dark, with the color coming from higher levels of testosterone.
There were millions of lions in the past; however, human expansion and trophy hunting has reduced that number to dangerously low levels. There are many reserves throughout Africa that harbor good numbers of lions, but their status in the wild is dire. Three are less than 4000 lions left on the plains of the Serengeti, spread among a few dozen prides. The lion can only be preserved for the generations to come with help from the young children of today. It’s one of the reasons zoos are so popular, to inspire the love of lions and nature early in life.