- The lion is the King of Beasts and husband of the lioness.
- Gazelles and things on which he feasts address him as your high-o-ness.
- There are those that admire that roar of his, in the African jungles and velds,
- But, I think that wherever the lion is, I’d rather be somewhere else.
‘Royal March of the Lion’ from the Carnival of the Animals by Ogden Nash
The African lion is known as the King of Beasts. Its scientific name is Panthera leo. Lions belong to the big cat family – lions, tigers, leopards and jaguars – and are the second largest big cat in the world after the tiger.
Male lions usually live for between 10 to 12 years in the wild, but females can live up to the age of 14 or 15. In captivity, lions have been known to live for 20 to 25 years. This is because they are kept in a cage or an enclosure and don’t face any of the dangers that wild lions do.
Despite looking very fierce, lions are actually classed as being ‘vulnerable’. This means that in the wild, they are in real danger of being wiped out. Only 40 years ago, Africa was home to 200,000 lions, now there are only around 32,000. That might still sound like a lot, but it means that in another 40 years, there may not be any alive at all. If every lion died, we would say that they had become extinct.
That is why we must try to look after those lions that are left. This is called conservation; the protection of animals in danger.
There are lots of different problems facing wild lions, including:
- Loss of habitat: A lion’s habitat is the area in which it lives. As people destroy their land or build their own homes there, lions struggle to find somewhere else suitable to live.
- Loss of prey: These are the animals that a lion chooses to hunt and eat. Because lions have to share their food with humans, there is less to go round and they are forced to travel further and look harder to feed themselves and their families.
- Conflict with people: When lions and humans live closely together, it can cause serious problems for each other. We call this conflict. People sometimes end up killing lions to protect their homes and farm animals.
- Disease and inbreeding: Animals can catch diseases, just like people, but wild lions can’t get treatment to make them better. In areas where there aren’t many lions, related family members sometimes have cubs together. This is called inbreeding and is a bad thing. It can cause health problems; making their young smaller, weaker and less likely to live very long.
Lions, like pet cats, can be very lazy creatures, spending around 20 hours a day resting. They are very sensitive to heat because they find it difficult to cool down. Because lions can’t sweat as we do, the best way for them to cool down is by resting in the shade or on high rocks where they can catch a cool breeze.
They pant, just like a dog, or lay on their backs showing off the thinner skin and lighter fur on their bellies.