The lion. Such a short name for such a magnificent creature.
If there’s one animal that draws people from all over the world to our country’s wild places more than any other, it has to be the “King of the jungle”.
The lion is Africa’s biggest cat; males weighing over 200kg and standing up to 1.2m high at the shoulder.
They’re very adaptable creatures, inhabiting almost any habitat where there’s enough prey to sustain them. They’ll prey on anything from insects to crocodiles, buffaloes, rhinos, hippos and even elephants, and can consume up to 40kg of meat in a single sitting. And despite their association with royalty, they’re not above stealing carcasses from other predators, or taking carrion. They’ll drink regularly if water is available, but otherwise can go without it for extended periods.
It is well known that lions are the most sociable of cats, living in prides that can number over 30 animals where food is abundant. These prides are controlled by single or coalitions of up to 6 adult males, defending territories in which the core of the pride, the adult females, can safely raise their cubs. The strength of the pride lies in the defending of territory, hunting of large prey animals, and communal care of the cubs. Depending on the availability of food, the territories can cover areas as large as 2000 square kilometres, scentmarked by animals of both sexes and loudly proclaimed by their distinctive roaring. Neighbouring prides will get involved in serious fights over territory, and when new males take over a pride it is seldom a bloodless affair, more often than not killing the cubs sired by the ousted males (who themselves are lucky if they escape alive). All in all, the life of a lion is not an easy one, and their lifespan is limited to only 12 to 15 years in the wild, if they reach adulthood at all.
Today, despite all the reverence afforded to it through the ages as a symbol of nobility and bravery, the lion is a species under threat. Ever increasing human populations, and their accompanying livestock, is shrinking the habitat and prey available to these powerful cats by the day. They are being persecuted as livestock killers. They’re being poached for their skin and heads as trophies, and for their bones, used in traditional Asian “medicine”, “tiger wine” and “love potions”. There’s many so-called “captive-breeding facilities” where lions are exploited for the same purposes. To top it off, the dwindling populations are susceptible to disease and inbreeding. Though estimates range widely, there’s probably no more than 30,000 wild lions remaining in Africa (maybe as few as 10,000), and perhaps 400 in India. In South Africa, there’s sizable populations finding protection in the Kruger National Park and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, with smaller numbers in several other reserves, including Pilanesberg, Hluhluwe-Imfolozi, iSimangaliso, Tembe, Mapungubwe, Marakele, Addo, Karoo and Mountain Zebra.
The 10th of August has been designated World Lion Day; “An independent campaign working to highlight the importance of the lion globally and to raise lion conservation awareness worldwide“