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African Lion Facts – The Sub-Saharan Big Cats


The African Lion as a Big Cat

African lion and cub share a momentThe African lion has captured our admiration and deserves the title of “King of the Jungle.” Surpassed in size only slightly by the larger tigers, this majestic and fierce denizen of the African Savannah is truly a “Big Cat.”

A male lion can weigh up to 450 pounds on the mainland, and is easily 10 feet long from its head to the end of its tail.

Lionesses usually weigh around 300-350 pounds and possess greater agility than their male counterparts. They are great hunters and have the ability to take down elephants, giraffes, and even crocodiles. She has superior hunting abilities and is known to effectively scavenge prey and scare off other animals. Generally, a single lioness can successfully protect a kill from about 3-4 adult hyenas before she runs the risk of being overwhelmed.

3 African lions runningLions are also considered the most social of the big cats; they form prides (groups) as large as 30 lions – sometimes more or less as determined by food supply. Generally there are less than a handful of adult males in a pride of lions, and many related female lionesses and their cubs.

The male lions, being more frightening and larger than the females, are the protectors and defenders of the pride’s territory. On the other hand, the lioness do most of the hunting.

In a coordinated effort, a cadre of lionesses takes down the prey to feed the pride while, the adult male African lion watches and protects their territory from intruders; they may have to stand guard over a territory that can cover up to 100 miles of sub-Saharan Savannah and grass-land.

The Lion’s Prey

Today, lions live predominantly in the open woodlands and grasslands of sub-Saharan Africa. As the most social of the big cats by far, lions live in prides consisting of about 30 members – the size of the pride tends to denote the availability of prey in the region.

The African Lion Pride

a group of male lionsPrides generally consist of no more than three to four males, several lionesses and a handful of cubs. Perhaps surprisingly, it is not the male that does the majority of the hunting; but the female’s job to supply the pride with meat. Sometimes, the giant male will help take down prey if he’s in the area.

Hunting Techniques

The great cats mostly hunt for their prey at night to take advantage of cooler temperatures and the cover of darkness. Lions have exceptional vision and hearing, which provides them with an added edge when stalking their unfortunate prey. When the animal is brought down, the male lions usually eat first; females are second and little cubs eat last.

The Prey

lionesses on buffalo carcassLions are carnivores, of course – they don’t eat any plants and vegetables whatsoever. Ideally, their preferred range of prey includes zebras, buffaloes, antelopes, hippos, rhinos, young elephants, giraffes and even crocodiles.

Concerning the massive hippo, rhino and elephant, lions only hunt young or injured members. It is exceedingly rare for lions to bring down a healthy bull elephant or rhino.

When larger animals are not available or their hunts are unsuccessful, African lions have been known to eat smaller prey such as tortoises, lizards, hares, birds and mice. Obviously, for an animal that can eat 45 grams of grams of meat at once, she has to eat these smaller animals frequently unless she can kill a buffalo.

lionesses and hyenas eatingLions also scavenge spoiled meat and steal kills from other carnivores such as leopards, cheetahs, wild dogs and hyenas.

The African lion eats an average of about 15 pounds of meat per day, but they have been known to gorge themselves and consume 100 pounds in a single sitting.

The African lion is a skilled hunter that prefers to eat a natural diet of other carnivores; however, they have also eaten humans at times.

This tends to happen when they have grown old or sickly, and cannot pursue or take down other prey. Then, the doubly-wise man becomes the sole occupant of the lion’s menu. It is important to capture or stop such lions, because once they’ve acquired a taste for human meat, they will continue to hunt men.

The African Lion’s Physicality

lions attacking cape buffalo

photograph by Joe Mcdonald

The lion is a majestic beast, and its physicality is impressive. While the King of Beasts may be smaller than the largest Asian tigers, he is certainly the most powerful feline found on the plains of Africa.

The lion’s physical characteristics enable it to virtually dominate its environment, where it is definitely an apex predator that isn’t subject to predation by any other animal.

Both the lion and lioness possess unique traits, making each of them invaluable to the pride. The female is built in a way that makes her a bit more agile than her male counterpart. Weighing an average of 250 to 300 pounds, her frame does not comprise the bulk that might otherwise cause her to tire more quickly. She is a hunter, whereas he is a protector of his charge.

female lions attack water buffalo

photograph by dereck and beverly Jouberts

However, because the lions of Botswana are particularly large, a female from that country might be almost as big as a male from the mainland.

The male African lion is awe-inspiring in his sheer size. He may weigh approximately 450 pounds of muscle, which spans 10 feet in length from tail to nose. Some males have even been known to weigh as much as 570 pounds. One swipe from the huge paw of an explosive male lion could easily kill a large hyena.

While the females in a pride typically rely on their natural agility to hunt prey, the males depend on their sheer bulk and strength to patrol the area and protect the pride members. A male might sleep all day to preserve his strength, but he can be trusted to defend the pride from multiple assailants or to assist in taking down particularly difficult prey.

male lion grabs buffalo

When they work together, male and female lions make a formidable team. The females are large and lithe, and they serve to hunt and take down prey. The males are even larger than the females, and they typically protect the pride from intruders and competitors. This symbiotic relationship creates a truly remarkable force on the plains of Africa.

lion and lioness

Thanks to My Readers

Thank you for reading and thank you for your support!

If you want to learn more about the most regal of the big Cats, consider buying my book on Amazon Kindle – just click on the image to the left to learn more.

It has 60 pages of well-written information; all you ever wanted to know about Africa’s mightiest cat.

There’s much more information in my book, The African Lion – Lord of the Serengeti. These include reproduction, details about the male lion’s mane and cooperative hunting strategies employed by the lionesses.

Find out how female lions ‘decide’ who takes part in the hunt and the roles assumed while chasing down prey.

Want to know how males survive for the first few years after growing up and leaving the pride? It’s all there.

This helps me tremendously to continue my series of similar books on Apex Predators such as the Polar Bear, Orca, Grey Wolf and others.

Again, thanks, and I hope you enjoyed this intro and like the book better! Just click the image to learn more.

lion in grassland looking ahead


    March 24, 2017 @ 7:16 pm

    Good evening

    I would like to be in touch with the photographer of the “3 African Lions running”. Could you phelp me please ?


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