Lion (Panthera Leo)

Appearance
The unmistakeable and largest of Africa's three 'Big Cats', known as the "King of The Jungle" and one of Kenya's "Big Five".
The colour of Lions varies from a pale rufous to a dark red-grey, with pale underparts. Cubs have spots which disappear with age. Tails are short haired, with a bushy tip that is between brown and black. The larger males have manes of substantially longer hair that extends from the sides of their face, around their necks and down onto their chests. That is, with the exception of the male Lions of Kenya's Tsavo NP, which are generally mane-less. Lions get paler in colour as they age, although the manes of the males get darker with age.

Resident
Lions are only found in the game parks and conservation areas of Kenya. They typically live in the savanna areas, although some prides are to be found around swamps or woodland areas. Lions run and chase after their prey, so are rarely seen in dense woodlands.
The best places to see Lions in Kenya are Masai Mara (incl. surrounding Conservancies), Tsavo NP, Arawale, Laikipia, Meru and Nairobi NP.

Longevity
Lions breed at any time of the year, not being reliant on weather conditions. A Lioness may mate with more than one male, but always with the strongest and fittest, ensuring strong cubs. Mating can continue over many days, during which time neither male nor female eat. Each day, the couple can mate up to 40 times, each mating lasting only around 20 seconds. If or when a Lioness exhausts a male, she will then look for another male to mate with, until her oestrus cycle ends.
Prides tend to synchronise mating periods and cubs are therefore born at the same time. This enables the cubs to feed from any nursing mother. After a gestation period of 16 weeks, between one and six cubs are born to each Lioness, with an average of three. Cubs each weigh just over 3.5lbs (1.6kg) at birth and are blind for the first two weeks. Lionesses leave the pride and give birth in well-hidden lairs, moving their cubs every 3-4 days to avoid over-scenting an area.
Many cubs die before being introduced to the pride. Some during the first month, while teething, which is a painful experience and weakens the cub. Others through predation from Hyena, Leopard and other predators. Also, a young Lioness may forget where she has left her cubs or be distracted by events around her. Only 50% of cubs survive the first month and only 20% live after two years.
Lionesses only introduce their cubs to the pride if the other cubs are not more than 3 months old, to avoid competition and fighting for milk. Cubs are weaned after 6 months, but will remain with their mothers for up to two years, being reliant on her for food. Some cubs will learn to kill small animals or scavenge larger, sick animals after a year.
After the age of two, Lions and Lionesses become sexually mature, but males are unlikely to mate until they gain control of a pride at around four years of age. At two - three years old, males are pushed out of the pride and form coalitions with other males.
Males often die at the age of ten years, unless they are part of a coalition of younger males, in which case they can live up to sixteen years. Females usually live a little longer, but will not live past 18 years old.

Predators
Apart from cubs being predated when young, there are no other predators of Lion - except man. Some die from wounds when bringing game down, especially from Buffalo.

Behaviour
Lions are very sociable animals, living in collections known as prides. A pride can be as small as three, or as large as forty, depending on the local food source. Prides have between one and three adult males (in Tsavo NP, there is only ever one male to a pride), along with various numbers of related females and their cubs. Sometimes, a group of females will leave a pride and form a pride of their own. Older male cubs are pushed out of the pride and form a coalition, until they are four years or older, at which point they look to take over a pride, either singly, in pairs or small groups. Males generally only rule a pride for up to three years, although larger coalitions can rule for longer. Both males and females repel prospective new males, but females readily accept new males when the fighting is finished. When new males take over a pride, they will kill off all cubs within a pride, bringing the females into oestrus and thus bringing their own blood into the pride.
It is the Lionesses that hunt and kill, but the male Lion/s that take priority at the food table. Hunting is generally a nocturnal activity, although the twilight hours, when it is cool, are also utilised.
Most prides have territories, marking them with urine, faeces and males roaring, that can be heard up to 5 miles (8km) away, especially at night. Territories can be as small as 26 square kilometres, or as large as two hundred, depending on the size of the pride and food availability.

Diet
Lions eat meat. Animals as small as a Warthog, that act like a hamburger, up to an African Buffalo that need several of the big cats to bring down and in particular the strength of the male/s, rather than the speed of the females. Antelope are generally too quick for Lions, unless they can get very close by stalking or ambush, before beginning the chase. Wildebeest and Zebra are also firm favourites of Lion. Only a third of all Lion chases result in bringing prey down, mostly because they pay scant regard for wind direction and the prey smells the Lionesses before they can get close. A Lionesses fastest speed is around 37mph (60kph) and they can only sustain this for 160 yards (150 metres). Generally, this run is in a straight line and unlike Cheetahs, they cannot twist and turn. Groups of Lionesses, circling their prey, have much better success than a single Lioness.
Lions are also prolific scavengers, stealing prey from the smaller cats. They will often run to where they see Vultures in the sky, hovering over a kill. Half of what they eat has already died or been killed by another animal.
Finally, Lion often attempt to kill other cats. Not because they want to eat them, far from it, but simply because they see the other species as competitors for the same food chain.

Other Lion Facts
Lions powerful jaws contain 30 teeth, including 2.75" (7cm) canine teeth that can exert 690lbs (313kg) of pressure.
The gap between a Lion's canine teeth is just the right spacing to go between the vertebrae of its prey and cut through the spinal cord.
The gape of a Lion's mouth can exceed 11" (28cm).
A Lion's pupils are round, unlike a domestic cat. They also have a special coating behind the eye which provides them with exceptional sight, especially in the dark - up to eight times better than a human eye.
The Lion population has decreased by over 40% in the last 20 years. There are now only approximately 25,000 left in the wild.
Lions have black spots on their upper lips, out of which hairs grow. The pattern of the spots is unique to each Lion and used for identification purposes.
Lions are the only cats where males and females differ in appearance. A phenomenon known as sexual dimorphism.

Photographs
Images taken in Kenya's Masai Mara, Nairobi National Park and Olara Orok Conservancy.

Male Lion

Male Lion

Lioness

Lioness

Lion Cub

Lion Cub