World Lion Day 2020

WORLD LION DAY is for celebrating one of the most majestic species on Earth.

World Lion day is celebrated on August 10th every year, which 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 in the world.  They are one of Africa’s “Big 5”, and tens of millions of tourists visit Africa every year, and drawn to seeing these magnificent and most prized animals.

Lion, Mala Mala Game Reserve
Mala Mala Game Reserve

It is thought that one hundred years ago there were around 200,000 lions roaming Africa. It is now estimated that there are only around 20,000 – 35,000 left in Africa. Lions have become extinct in 26 African countries. 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
A coalition of two brothers
Lions in Africa before and now
This map is an example of the numbers and areas where lion once lived and where they are living now.
Habitat

A lion is often referred to as ‘King of the jungle, but do not actually live in the jungle. Lions live in prides and coalitions in grasslands and savannahs in parts of sub-Saharan Africa (Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, and a few other areas). Lion prides consist of a mature male and possibly other younger non-dominant males, and up to 2-30 females and their cubs. The females will do most of the hunting and raising cubs, males will guard his pride and territory. Young males will leave the pride around 2 years of age and form their own ‘coalition” which consists of two or more males who stay together until around 4 years old when they will find a female, mate, and form their own pride.

Serengeti lion
Lion Facts

Lion cubs face a high mortality rate. The mortality rate in their first year is 50%, thereafter, sadly it increases to a mortality rate of 80%.  Lion cubs face many challenges in their lives, such as; injuries, starvation, disease, and being killed by adult lions. When males do survive and grow up, they become prey to trophy hunters and illegal pet trade.

Young lion cub sharpening its teeth, Mala Mala Game Reserve
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.  Their manes are a sense of pride for a male and are more likely to attract a female for mating with a bigger mane. A large mane is also more intimidating for other competing males. Their manes also protect their neck during the fighting for mating rights and over territory.

Lions are diurnal, which means that 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
Lion cubs, Mala Mala Game Reserve

Lions can run at speeds of 60-80km/h but are not able to run for long distances as they have a small heart and lungs.  It is for this reason that lions prefer to stalk their prey and will wait until the very last moments to charge. Females do the majority of the hunting, while the males will watch and wait for a kill. Males will get the first bite! 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 big role in the ecosystem as they help to control the population of other animals, such as; wildebeest, zebra, buffalo, giraffe, kudu, impala, warthogs, and small reptiles

Lions climbing trees

This is not their usual behaviour as only around 5% of lions will do this.  The primary motivation for climbing is to avoid unpleasantries on the ground, such as; being chased by buffalo or elephants, avoid tsetse flies and other flying insects, and for better vantage points to spot potential prey.  One such place where one can 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
Lions in trees, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda
Lioness in tree, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda
Lioness in tree, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda
How many species of lions are there?

There is only one species ~ Panthera leo.  However, there are 7 sub-species that have evolved, some of which have become extinct and others disappearing due to human actions.  The few lions that do remain are in danger of extinction.

Asiatic lion (Panthera leo persica), native to India, and found in the Gir Forest National Park Wildlife Sanctuary. Due to strict protection, the lion numbers have increased. In 2005 there were 359 individuals, and in 2019 the numbers had increased to approximately 700 individuals.

Barbary Lion (Panthera leo leo), a sub-species that became extinct around 1942. Some are still living in zoos in Morocco.

The West African Lion (Panthera leo senegalensis) 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 the lions and are critically endangered. It is estimated that there are around 400 – 800 lions left in the wild.

The Masai Lion (Panthera leo massaica), or the East African 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.

The Congo Lion (Panthera leo azandica), also known Northeast Congo Lion or the Uganda Lion: This lion is found in north-eastern parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and western parts of Uganda.

Katanga Lion (Panthera leo bleyenberghi), is among the largest subspecies of African lions, 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 (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 but usually will begin mating when they are around 4-5 years old. By this age, they are then mature enough to take over and manage a pride. 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 and all females will take care of all the young 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 Red List of Threatened Species

Human animal conflict ~ farmers killing lions for eating their livestock as much of lion’s prey is disappearing due to more land being used for agriculture and the bushmeat trade. Local farmers and villages either shoot lions or use snare traps to snare a lion and they then die a cruel and slow death

Trophy/sport hunting ~ mostly American trophy hunters kill approximately 700 lions annually, mostly large males with big manes

Political instability and poor governance on protecting the species

Illegal poaching and pet trade ~ for body parts.  Lion bones are used in traditional Asian medicine, and the demand is increasing.  Lion skin, teeth, paws, and claws are also used in traditional rituals and medicine

Lack of prey ~ reduction of prey due to habitat loss caused by making more land available for population growth

Lioness with three cubs
Lioness with her three cubs, Zambia
Lioness Serengeti
Lioness, Serengeti

There are many conservation groups working in communities providing education to humans on how to live with lions in their community and provide protection to reduce the conflict. Organisations are providing incentives for financial rewards when their local lion population increases and also compensation for any of their livestock that was killed by lions. 

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 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, which now has around one hundred lions. It is open to tourism. Botswana also 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.

References

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

https://campaign.awf.org/lion-poaching/

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

https://www.worldwildlife.org/blogs/good-nature-travel/posts/ten-interesting-facts-about-lions

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

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

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