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Africa's Big 5 - Images, Facts and Information about the "Big Five"

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African Lion (Panthera leo)
Young Male Lion, NCA, Tanzania

Young Male Lion, NCA, Tanzania

© Anouk Zijlma
The African lion (Panthera leo) king of the sub-Saharan savanna, has been admired by man for its beauty and strength for thousands of years. It's one of the most exciting animals to see on safari. These beautiful, large cats are excellent hunters but you're more likely to see one sleeping than hunting.

Lions are very social animals, unlike other cats, they live in prides of several females, their young and a couple of males. They will cooperate when hunting difficult prey like a buffalo, but usually they'll take down an antelope on their own. Females hunt more than males and all lions will happily scavenge given half a chance. Lions ambush their prey, (like leopards), rather than track and chase (like hyenas).

Lions can reach around 14 years of age, but many males die sooner because they get injured fighting one another. Female lions synchronize the birth of their cubs and cooperate in raising them. Females tend to stay with their pride for life, male cubs get kicked out when they are between 2-4 years old.

Lions have few natural predators besides the occasional buffalo, but of course man is its biggest threat. Traditional hunting customs among local tribes in East Africa, big game hunters, as well as a reduction in habitat and prey, have all acted to put the lion on the IUCN threatened species list as their numbers have declined by 30% in the past two decades.

Where to See Lion

Fun Facts about the Lion
  • Lions rest around 20 hours a day
  • Lion cubs are born with spots (rosettes)
  • The size and coloration of a lion's mane shows other males how fit and strong he is, the darker and larger the mane, the stronger the lion is
  • Lions do not purr like house cats
  • All lion tails end in a hairy tuft that develops when a cub is around 5 months old
  • Man-eating lions do exist
  • All lions can climb trees, some rest up high more than others in certain areas to avoid buffalo and tsetse flies
  • Lions do not like to swim
  • As lion cubs get older, they nurse from any lactating female in their pride
  • Lions can discriminate the roars of large groups from those of small groups and those of strangers from companions.
  • Male lions mark their territory by spraying a combination of urine and scent from glands at the base of their tails

Sources
Lion Research Center - University of Minnesota
African Lion
Lion - Wikipedia
Lion - IUCN Redlist

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