Until about 10 000 years ago, lions were the most widespread land dwelling mammals after humans, and found almost all over the earth. Today, they face a rapid decline in their populations, having lost 30 – 50% of their numbers in the last two decades, and are steadily making their way onto the IUCN’s (International Union for Conservation of Nature) list of endangered species.
The handsome appearance and fierce reputation of the King of the African jungle makes the lion an irresistible draw card for those who would put them on display. While the decline in numbers is concerning and it is unknown if any truly wild lions still exist, the species is not in immediate danger of extinction with the majority of the population living in well-protected areas.
Despite sleeping for up to 20 hours a day, a lion’s life is not without its hardships. During their waking hours they spend much of the time walking in search of prey or scavenging what they may from their surroundings. It is believed that up to 50% of a lions diet consists of the leftover pickings from other predators and other scavenged foods.
Being the only feline that lives in groups, called prides, may make hunting easier but it ultimately means more mouths to feed too – up to 16 at a time, with the largest prides known to consist of 30 individuals. Wild prey species are not easy to catch and although lions may occasionally take down a large herbivore such as a giraffe or elephant, most of their catches consist of smaller animals like impala, wildebeest or zebra.
It is well known that the lionesses do most of the hunting while the males sit back and enjoy the ‘lion’s share’, but being the King of Beasts does have its drawbacks.
The males are responsible for defending their territories, their females, and their cubs from the next generation of male lions, including their own progeny. If the lion fails in this duty and his pride is taken over by another dominant male, all his cubs could be killed by the new leader, and his legacy destroyed.
The future of a lion, which has been ousted from his position in the pride, is an uncertain one. Vulnerable to attack and restricted to eating what he can bring down by himself or scavenge, these loners usually succumb to injury or starvation, unless they manage to secure themselves a new pride.
Spare a thought for the lion when you hear his voice echoing through the night during a boma braai or while you admire his life of leisure out on a game drive – the life of a lion is a violent one – it’s not easy being the King of Beasts.