Common Name: Lion
Scientific Name: Panthera leo
Species: P. leo
The lion, tawny to sandy brown in color, is the largest of the African carnivores. Cubs are faintly spotted on the lower parts; some adults retain traces of the spots. Adult males have manes that vary in color from tawny to black. This, together with their larger size, distinguishes them from females. African lions (Panthera Leo) live in most of sub-Saharan Africa except in desert and rainforest habitats. Lions were exterminated from South Africa and they remain only in Kruger and Kalahari Gemsbok National Parks. Lions once ranged throughout southwest Asia and North Africa. Asiatic lions (P. l. persica) belong to the single remaining subspecies in this region.
Once roaming from Greece to central India, Asiatic lions persist in the Gir forest of northwest India. Lions usually hunt at night or dawn. Their prey consists mainly of large mammals, such as antelopes, gazelles, warthogs, wildebeest, buffalos, and zebras, but smaller animals like hares and birds are also taken occasionally. Their diet consists of only about 20 different species. Carrion is readily taken and often recovered from other predators like hyenas and wild dogs. In some areas lions specialize on rather atypical prey-species; this is the case at the Savuti river, where they constantly prey on young elephants, and at the Linyanti, where they hunt hippos (both rivers are in Chobe National Park, Botswana). It is reported that the lions, driven by extreme hunger, started taking down baby elephants, then moved on to adolescents and occasionally fully grown adults.
Lions can reach speeds of about 60 km/h (37 mph), but they don't have the endurance to be long-distance runners, so they have to come quite close to their prey before starting the attack. They sneak up to the victim until they reach a distance of about 30 m (98 feet) or less. Usually, several lions work together and encircle the herd from different points. The attack is short and powerful and the lion tries to catch the victim with a fast rush and some final leaps. The prey is usually killed by a bite into the nape or throat. Because lions hunt in open spaces, where they are easily seen by their prey, teamwork increases the likelihood of a successful hunt. Teamwork also enables them to defend their prey more easily against other large predators like hyenas, which can be attracted by vultures over kilometers in open savannas. The males attached to a pride do not usually participate in hunting, except in the case of large animals such as buffalo.
Author: Rebecca B
Photo Credit: Photographed by Miroslav Duchacek (from Czech Republic) in Africa.