World Lion Day 2020

WORLD LION DAY celebrates one of the most majestic species on Earth.

World Lion day is celebrated on August 10th. This day was designated as it also coincides with the Leo Zodiac sign. This day is to celebrate and raise awareness to save and protect lions in the wild from extinction.

African lions (Panthera leo) are at the top of the animal food chain ~ their size, strength, determination, courage, and beauty make them one of the most “must-see” animals globally. Lions are one of Africa’s Big 5. Tens of millions of tourists visit Africa annually to see these magnificent and most prized animals.

Lion, Mala Mala Game Reserve
World Lion Day 2020
Mala Mala Game Reserve

One hundred years ago, around 200,000 lions were roaming Africa. However, now there are only approximately 20,000 – 35,000 left in Africa. In addition, lions have become extinct in 26 African countries. Accordingly, lions are now considered a vulnerable species. Some scientists predict that lions in the wild could face extinction by 2050 if the current decline in numbers continues at the same rate.

A coalition of two brothers
World Lion Day 2020
A coalition of two brothers
Lions in Africa before and now
This map is an example of the numbers and areas where lions once lived and live now.
Habitat

A lion is often referred to as King of the Jungle but do not live in the jungle. Instead, lions live in prides and coalitions. Lion habitats are grasslands and savannahs in parts of sub-Saharan Africa (Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, and a few other areas). A lion pride consists of one mature male, younger non-dominant males, and 30 female lions and cubs.

In general, female lions are responsible for hunting and raising cubs, while male lions are responsible for guarding their pride and territories. Young male lions will leave their pride around two years of age and form their coalition. A coalition consists of two or more males who stay together until around four years old. Once mature, they will find a female to mate with and form their pride.

World Lion Day 2020
Serengeti lion
Lion Facts

Lion cubs face a high mortality rate. The mortality rate in their first year is 50%—accordingly, the rate increases to a mortality rate of 80% for the remainder of a lions life.

Lion cubs face many challenges in their lives. For example, injuries, starvation, disease, predation and being killed by adult lions. Meanwhile, many males who survive and grow up become prey to trophy hunters and the illegal pet and wildlife trade.

Young lion cub sharpening its teeth, Mala Mala Game Reserve
World Lion Day 2020
Lion cub sharpening its teeth, Mala Mala Game Reserve

A lion’s roar can be heard up to 8km away.

Male lions have distinctive manes. A big mane is a sense of pride for a male lion. Lions with a large mane are more likely to attract a female mate. Interestingly, the bigger the mane, the more intimidating a lion is seen to be. Manes also protect a lions neck during fighting over mating and territory.

Lions are diurnal, meaning they mostly hunt during the day, but do hunt at night if necessary.

Lions have few predators, apart from humans.

Lions have only one deadly predator ... Humans
World Lion Day 2020
Lion cubs, Mala Mala Game Reserve

Lions can run at speeds of 60-80km/h but cannot run for long distances as they have a small heart and lungs. For this reason, lions prefer to stalk their prey, waiting until the very last moment to charge. Lions are opportunistic hunters and will hunt when they are hungry. Most lion hunts occur at dusk and dawn when temperatures are cooler.

Lions play a significant role in the ecosystem, as they help control the population of other animals, such as; wildebeest, zebra, buffalo, giraffe, kudu, impala, warthogs, and small animals reptiles.

Lions climbing trees

Climbing trees is unusual behaviour for a lion. However, around 5% of lions will climb trees. Occasionally, lions will climb trees to avoid unpleasantries on the ground, such as; being chased by buffalo or an elephant, avoiding tsetse flies and other flying insects, and better vantage points to spot potential prey. One place to see lions in trees is in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda. It was quite an experience to find more lions in the trees than on the ground!

Lions in trees, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda
World Lion Day 2020
Lions in trees, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda
Lioness in tree, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda
Lioness in a tree, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda
How many species of lions are there?

There is only one species of lion. However, there are seven subspecies of lion that has evolved. Some have become extinct, while others are disappearing due to human actions. The few lions that do remain are in danger of extinction.

Asiatic Lion

The Asiatic Lion (Panthera leo persica) is native to India. Gir Forest National Park Wildlife Sanctuary is home to these lions. In 2005 there were only 359 individuals, however, due to strict protection, their numbers have increased to 700 individuals at last count in 2019.

Barbary Lion

The Barbary Lion (Panthera leo leo) is a subspecies that became extinct around 1942. However, some are still living in zoos in Morocco.

West African Lion

The West African Lion (Panthera leo senegalensis) is found in isolated areas in southwestern Africa, in Angola, Zaire, western Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and northern Botswana. These lions are one of the largest of all lions and are critically endangered. It is estimated that there are around 400 – 800 lions left in the wild.

Masai Lion

The Masai Lion (Panthera leo massaica) or the East Africa Lion. These lions are found in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Mozambique. This subspecies is quite common and well protected in areas such as the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania.

Congo Lion

The Congo Lion (Panthera leo azandica) is also known as the Northeast Congo Lion or the Uganda Lion. This lion is found in northeastern parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo and western parts of Uganda.

Katanga Lion

The Katanga Lion (Panthera leo bleyenberghi) is among the largest subspecies of African lions. They can be found in Namibia, Angola, Zaire, western Zambia, western Zimbabwe, and northern Botswana. Conservation efforts in recent years have had some positive outcomes with an increase in numbers.

Transvaal Lion

The Transvaal Lion (Panthera leo krugeri) or Kalahari Lion. Found in the southern parts of Africa, e.g. Kruger National Park, and Swaziland’s Hiane Royal National Park. These lions have black manes. There are more than 2000 lions in the well-protected Kruger National Park.

Reproduction

Male lions reach sexual maturity around two years old. However, they usually will begin mating when they are around 4-5 years old. By this age, they are t mature enough to take over and manage the pride of females. Females will begin to have cubs around 4 years old, which when born are totally dependent on their mothers for survival for the first 6 weeks of life. All females’ in a pride will mate around the same time. It is the responsibility of all females in a pride to care for all the cubs. cubs. Female lions will mate every two years and will birth a litter of 2-3 cubs after a four-month gestation.

Courting lions
Courting lions
Lioness with two cubs
Lioness with two cub
Conservation status

Lions are listed as ‘vulnerable’ by the IUCN’s RedList of Threatened Species

Habitat loss

Loss of lions habitat due to human more human settlements encroaching into lions territory which is increasing human-animal conflict.

Human-animal conflict

Farmers kill lions for eating their livestock. Lions habitats are shrinking which means fewer available food sources for lions. Inevitably, lions are resorting to killing and eating livestock. Villagers shoot lions or use snares to catch and kill them.

Trophy/sport hunting

Mostly American trophy hunters kill approximately 700 lions annually, mostly large males with big manes

Political instability

Civil wars and political unrest impact all wildlife.

Illegal poaching and pet trade

Body parts are used in traditional Asian medicine. The demand is increasing for skin, teeth, claws, and paws.

Lioness with three cubs
Lioness with her three cubs, Zambia
Lioness Serengeti
World Lion Day 2020
Lioness, Serengeti

There are many conservation groups working in communities providing education to humans on how to live with lions in their community and providing protection to reduce the conflict. Organisations are providing incentives and financial rewards for local people. When their local lion population increases, so do their compensations.

Conservation

Conservation efforts have had some success, particularly in the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania, and Kruger National Park in South Africa, both of which have a large lion population. Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe have all reported an 11% increase in their lion populations. This is mainly due to the lions being in fenced-in reserves. One such example is Selinda Reserve in Botswana, where National Geographic Explorers and filmmakers Dereck and Beverly Joubert created a protected reserve for a lioness and her cub. Over time it has become a great success. This reserve now has around one hundred lions. It is open for tourism. Botswana banned all hunting in 2014.

Please enjoy this short video on lion cubs

http://www.wildlifefilms.co/birth-of-a-pride#:~:text=Tiny%20cubs%20scattered%20and%20ran,that%20a%20pride%20is%20born%20.

Resources

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2018/11/africa-lion-pride-reclaims-land-botswana-conservation/

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/a/african-lion/

https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/15951/5326576

https://www.panthera.org/cat/lion

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