Kings of the beasts
prey after dusk falls
creature, the second-largest living cat after the tiger, is sometimes referred
to as the “king of the beasts” and is the symbol of power and courage. What is
it? Of course, it is the lion, the only big cat with a mane.
lions exist in Sub-Saharan Africa and in Asia. Its population is dwindling in
northwest India. Of greater concern is the 50 per cent drop in the number of
lions in Sub-Saharan Africa.
once roamed in North Africa, the Middle East and Western Asia until 10,000 years
ago, when cave lions were on the prowl in the Americas.
There are 12
subspecies of lions. The largest is the Barbary lion which has become extinct;
the last one was shot in 1920. Barbary lions used to range in north Africa, from
Morocco to Egypt.
inhabit savanna and grassland although they may take to bush and forest. They
live in the wild for around 10 to 14 years. Those in captivity live as long as
20 years. Males seldom live longer than
10 years owing to injuries caused by continuous fighting with rivals.
Groups of females
normally hunt together. Some have been known to become man-eaters and seek
human prey. With powerful legs, a strong jaw and eight-centimetre (3.1-inch)
teeth, a lion can bring down and kill a large prey.
Lionesses do most of
the hunting for their pride because they are smaller and faster than males.
These pursuers can reach speeds of 81 km/h (50 mph), but they can only do so
for a short burst. They usually sneak up to the victim until they reach a
distance of about 30 metres (98 feet) or less.
Lions kill their
prey by a swipe of their paws or strangulation. Their targets are zebras,
buffalos, wild boars and deer. They also go near a coast to attack seals.
However, they normally stay away from adult hippopotamuses, rhinoceros and
elephants, but they sometimes charge at leopards and cheetahs.
On average, males
weigh 430 pounds and females 275 pounds. The head and body length is 170 to 250
centimetres (5 feet 7 inches to 8 feet 2 inches) in males and 140 to 175 centimetres
(4 feet 7 inches to 5 feet 9 inches) in females. Lions in captivity are usually
larger than those in the wild.
Lions spend most of
their time resting and are inactive for about 20 hours a day. They are more
active after dusk when they spend two hours looking for food and 50 minutes eating.
Males are more likely to share food with the cubs than with lionesses.
As early as 850 BC,
lions were kept and bred by Assyrian kings. Alexander the Great was aid to have
been presented with tame lions from northern India. In Roman times, lions were
kept by emperors to take part in gladiator arenas.
In the East, lions
were tamed by Indian princes. The first European “zoos” spread among noble and
royal families in the 13th century; they were called menageries.
Sometimes called the
“king of the beasts”, the lion appears as a symbol of power, courage and
nobility on family crests, shields and national flags. “Lion” was the nicknames
of ancient warriors with a reputation for bravery, such as Richard the Lion
Heart, Henry the Lion and the Lion of Flanders.
Clubs and sports
teams are also named after the lion. One is the Detriot Lions, an American