Can a cat be used as a means of execution in a blood-stained arena? Can a cat serve as a mascot for an American media company? Can a cat have its own animated movie portraying it as royalty? Yes, it can if it is an African Lion.
The African Lion (Panthera leo krugeri) is quite possibly the most popular among the four “Big Cats”. However, unlike the tiger, the jaguar, and the leopard, the lion does not have any color pattern on its fur.
The body markings on these cats are apparently ideal for the habitats they generally reside in.
In other words, the tiger needs his stripes to hide in the forest, while the lion’s tan-coloured fur is just right for blending in with the grass of the African plains.
Lions are the only cats that live together in groups called prides. Prides may consist of as many as 30 lions; adult males, females and cubs. You can easily tell them apart – it is a well known fact that the males are the ones with the manes. These manes serve other purposes than just visual appeal.
While the male lion rarely joins the females in a hunt, his primary responsibility is to protect the pride. The manes make them look bigger, serving as intimidation against anything that dares to pose a threat. Also, as a male lion reaches sexual maturity, his mane grows and becomes darker. This would make the male more attractive to the female lions.
As previously mentioned, the female lion does most of the hunting. Their targets include zebras, wildebeest, and Cape buffalo, among other ungulates. The intelligence of these beasts is overwhelming. They rely on stealth, creeping closer and closer to a herd. When the lionesses are within around 100 ft, they charge with surprising speeds (up to 80 km/h or 50mph over short distances). They would then knock their prey down with bites to the neck and throat.
But if sneaking close and suddenly pouncing on the prey is not effective, these wily beasts make use of more advanced tactics to gain the upper hand. Female lions usually work in groups of four. Let’s say they have a herd of impala in their sights. Two of them would openly approach the herd to scare them.
The sight of these lions, won’t take much for them to panic and run away. However, it’s all part of their strategy: These two lions have scared the herd to run in a direction leading to where the other two females are hiding and waiting. They can easily pick out a laggard and take it down.
Regardless of how these lionesses catch dinner for the pride, there is always a certain order as to who goes first in eating.
The dominant males are always first. The lionesses follow, and the cubs eventually get the leftovers. The males would eat first so they can watch for scavengers (Spotted Hyenas are definitely notorious for freeloading) while the tired females and young cubs have their share.
When the lions are not hunting or eating, they usually spend the other 20-21 hours in the day doing nothing. However, things get a little bit dangerous in the pride during mating season. The males turn quite aggressive. Younger and less dominant male lions will usually leave during these times, to fight for supremacy over other prides.
What usually happens is a confrontation between these younger males and the elder male of a pride. If the elder male wins, the younger male leaves to try his luck elsewhere. If it is the other way around, the elder male leaves, and the younger male eliminates all of his offspring. This way only the younger male’s offspring would rule the pride, if ever he defends it long enough for this to happen.
Over history many have been amazed with the actions of the beautiful and deadly African lion. But there are also some which find these creatures a threat. All African lions regardless of age do not necessarily have predators above them in the food chain. When a pride is in the vicinity of a human settlement, and if there are no other options, lions may resort to attacking the humans’ domestic livestock, or even the humans themselves.
These creatures have not only been targets for hunting, but many have been captured for other reasons since ancient history.
Assyrian kings took, kept and bred lions as pets as early as 850 BC. Monarchs and other people in power have also used lions as pets. Many Roman authorities have also utilized African lions in the Coliseum, pitting them against gladiators or using them as executioners.
As early as the 1300’s, African lions were features of exhibit for the elite in menageries, now known as zoos. As time passed by, menageries ceased to be exclusive displays for the rich and became more a public attraction, and in turn the demand for more enclosures for public animals were needed.
Lions were one of those species which were not spared from the curiosity of the world. It was not until the recent century where the conditions of lions in captivity have improved. Certain details were gradually implemented to ensure that the environment of the areas where they were detained were close to if not identical to the habitat where they originally lived in.
Though it is true that the African lion may live longer in captivity, it does not necessarily have the freedom to move around as much as it did before. The African countries are joining with the rest of the world in the effort of conservation of this mighty creature.
UPDATE: I have created a screensaver that shows different images of these beautiful lions. You can download it by clicking here. Right click on the link and download the file to your computer desktop. After it finishes downloading, double click and install it. The screensaver is optimized for 1024 x 768 screens
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