Visitors to Southwick’s Zoo can easily understand why the lion is considered to be the “King” of beasts. The African lion has a beautifully dark, regal mane and a handsome coat. His size and stature is impressive and he can usually be found atop a large rock pedestal in the center of the lion exhibit. Lions are generally lazy creatures and they can often be found lounging around throughout the day. On really warm days, our lion can be found slumbering in a cool cave-like structure under their large rock out of the sun. Periodically, the male lion will give a great big roar, which can be heard throughout the park.
Scientific Name: panthera leo
Appearance: The male lion will average 9 feet in length and approximately 400 lbs in weight and can stand about 3 1/2 – 4 feet tall. The female lion averages 8 feet in length and can weigh up to 350 lbs and can stand about 3 feet in height. The lion is usually sandy brown to medium brown in color. The mature male lion has a mane that covers the backside of the head and the shoulders. The extent of the mane varies from individual to individual, with some having virtually no mane at all. The mane can vary in color from the rest of the body and tends to grow darker with age. The mane’s primary role is to protect the male during fights, it has also been discovered that female lions prefer males with bigger and darker manes. The lion’s tail is the only one in the cat family with a tassel at the tip. The tassel conceals a spine, which has the last few tail bones fused together. The tail is very important for overall balance. Females also use their raised tail as a “follow me” signal for their cubs. It is also used to signal each other during a group hunt.
Lifespan: A lion can can live approximately 12 years in the wild and up to 20 years in captivity.
Habitat: Grasslands and semi-arid plains of sub-Sahara Africa.
Diet: Lions are true carnivores, their diet ranges from wild hogs, impala, zebras, to wildebeest, giraffe, buffalo, and sometimes rhinos or hippos. The females are primary hunters. They will stalk the pray and chase them to the awaiting male lions where their strength and size are needed to take down the larger game.
Predators: Lions are threatened by human population growth and agricultural expansion as well as hunting and poaching by livestock rangers or for the black market. Most of the lions today in Africa live in wildlife sanctuaries.
Fun Facts: A lion can reach up to 50 mph for short distances and can jump up to 36 feet. Lions are the only truly social cat species, and usually every female in a pride (5 – 40 cats) is closely related. The roar of an adult lion can be heard up to five miles away and warns off intruders or reunites scattered pride members. The coolest hours of the early morning is when the female lionesses hunt as a team to catch a meal for the entire pride. Usually, only one out of four hunts are successful and the dominant male always eat first, lionesses next, and then the cubs. Males who wish to take over a pride will challenge the dominant male. One form of this can be a stare-down, where two males will sit a few feet apart, face to face, and stare at each other. The first one to break his stare is the loser. This can go on for many hours.