The lion ( Panthera leo ) belongs to the genus Panthera and is a member of the family Felidae . It lives in herds, in which the females are in charge of hunting the prey, although the dominant male is the first to eat. They are gregarious animals and have nocturnal or twilight habits, so they spend most of the day sleeping together
In the late Pleistocene, about 10,000 years ago, the lion was the most numerous land mammal , after humans: Panthera leo spelaea lived in northern and western Europe and Panthera leo atrox lived in the Americas, from the Yukon to Peru
A complex social structure
Lions live in large groups, an exception among cats, which are usually quite solitary animals. A herd has 15 to 40 members and is made up of several family-related females and their offspring, along with two or three males of different origins.
A male lion normally weighs around 250 kilos and reaches 125 cm in height. It is the second largest feline in the world, after the tiger . The largest known specimen was a lion killed by anthropophagy (the so-called “man-eaters”) in Botswana, which weighed 385 kg.
Where do lions live?
Although the lion is commonly known as the “King of the Jungle” , in reality this species lives in the grasslands and plains of Sub-Saharan Africa and in a protected park called Gir, in northern India and rarely ventures to penetrate jungle areas.
Danger of extinction
Lion populations are unsustainable outside of reserves and national parks. The habitat loss and conflicts with humans are major causes for concern. In West Africa, the lion population is critically endangered.
Lionesses with direct family ties (grandmothers, mothers, sisters, aunts and cousins) live together their entire lives, alongside their cubs. Only males should venture out on their own once they reach maturity, in order to seek out a different group to accept them or fight another male, for preeminence and leadership of their pack.
Male lions have majestic manes that make them appear larger and more intimidating. These manes also serve as a sexual incentive , since the females opt for the males that have them more voluminous and striking.
The roar of a male lion can be heard more than 10 kilometers away and is considered the loudest of all felines. This sound helps them to find other lions, as well as to proclaim their territory, which can include up to 250 square kilometers.
For lions it is important to establish a “family scent”, to prevent aggression between group members and avoid external attacks. All the members of a pack must be impregnated with the scent of the family, in order to be signified as belonging to it.
A national symbol
Lions are associated with pride, courage, and strength, making them a perfect national symbol. Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, England, Ethiopia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Singapore consider the lion as their national symbol.
While they rarely attack humans, there have been cases of lions protecting them , such as the one that occurred in 2005 when a 12-year-old Ethiopian girl was abducted from her village to force her to marry. After escaping from her captors, she was found a week later protected by three lions, who as soon as they saw the police, licked her and left.