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The Lion: King Of The Savannah - Yellow Magpie

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Published on July 21st, 2011 | by Yellow Magpie


The Lion: King Of The Savannah


A man wisely cowers in the undergrowth on a sultry, but rapidly cooling, evening deep in the heart of Tanzania’s savannah. He hears the cracking of the long grass, and is immediately hit in the pit of his stomach by a hellish sound that reverberates throughout his body.

Fortunately for the man, the orchestrator of this fearsome explosion of sound is not interested in him. Without even being seen, using sound alone, the lion has declared himself ruler of the savannah on this occasion.

Two Male Indian Lions

The Power Of A Roar

Male lions possess one of the most terrifying roars of all the animals. It can be heard for miles around and one of its main purposes is to intimidate other male lions.

Lions achieve this sound through a remarkable larynx. This larynx is very different from the domestic cat and is actually far closer to a human’s. Lions are able to achieve their thunderous roar by pulling the larynx down, amplifying the sound by extending the vocal tract.

The muscles that pull the larynx down are located deep within the chest cavity. These unique abilities allow the lion to project its roar eight to nine kilometres (five to six miles). Males use their roars for communicating many different things. These sounds can be used as invitations for females in the area to mate, they could be to warn off other males or signal a challenge to their rivals.

A Lion Pride

Lions And Tigers

There are quite a few differences between lions and tigers, most are behavioural. Unlike lions, tigers are solitary animals and only meet other tigers to mate. While lions dislike water, tigers prefer to bathe. This is probably due to the fact that tigers originally come from much colder climates and do not deal with heat as well as lions.

Lions are nocturnal hunters while tigers hunt in daylight. These is probably the reason why tigers have killed more people than any other big cat.

Physically, there is a great disparity between lions and lionesses with the females being much smaller. The physical distinction in size between male and female tigers is not as pronounced in many of the smaller sub-species but is significant in the larger variants such as the Siberian tiger.

All In The Pride

Lions are very social animals. At the heart of their societies is the pride which consists of related females, their cubs and several young males. Each pride has a dominant male who is the leader of the group.

It is very seldom that the alpha male hunts, preferring to leave the work to the lionesses. Instead the dominant male spends his time protecting the pride from other intruders and warding off challengers from male pretenders to his title.

Lioness With Cub

The lionesses generally remove themselves from the pride when they are giving birth and it usually takes several months before their cubs are big enough to be introduced to the pride.

The Hyena Myth

There is a pervading myth that hyenas are scavengers who steal from lions. It goes something like this. The lionesses do all the hard work, stalking and finally killing their prey, only to be overpowered by a larger number of hyenas who force the lions to abandon their kills.

These types of scenarios are often shown on wildlife documentaries so it is not amazing to find out that many people have this view of lion/hyena interaction.

A Spotted Hyena

The true role of this complex relationship is far different. It is usually the lions that do the scavenging, allowing the hyenas to carry out the challenging work of hunting and killing the prey. The lions then rush in and take the kill from the dogs.

Male lions have also been known to attack and kill hyenas without provocation and leave the dead bodies uneaten as well as killing hyena cubs. For these reasons, it is little wonder that the two species do not get along.

Man-Eating Lions

When imperialists where colonising Africa, rumours from the native people about man-eating lions would permeate throughout towns and villages. Many of these concerns were dismissed as stories, fanciful tales told to entertain at camp fires.

Nevertheless, at the end of the 19th century and during the beginning of the 20th, these myths became clothed in truths. Several lions that had killed dozens of people were hunted. Two male lions killed 28 people while they were building a railway track in Tsavo, Kenya. The two lions were eventually killed and hunted, with great difficulty, their remains are now on display in a museum. See below.

The Stuffed Man-Eating Lions Of Tsavo Photo By Jeffrey Jung

Gradually, a picture began to emerge of differences in these man-eating lions. All of them were males, all were without manes, and all of them had tooth problems.

Despite some people suggesting that humans encroaching on their territories have forced lions to hunt people, there remains scant substantial evidence to back this up. On the other hand, there is plenty of documented evidence to suggest that some lions that are too weak to hunt their natural prey may resort to hunting people instead.

Undoubtedly, the largest amount of human fatalities was caused by one particular pride of lions that were finally hunted down and killed in the 1940s. It is estimated that three generations of the pride killed an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 people in what is modern day Tanzania.

King Of The Savannah

Lions are a remarkable creatures that are best respected for what they are, highly adept hunters. Their social skills and their ability to communicate is central to their way of life. Lions prides are unique among big cats and demonstrate a culture that sets them apart from other felines.

It seems that lions are destined to remain, for the foreseeable future at least, Kings of the Savannah.

Vital Statistics

  • There is a high degree of sexual dimorphism between lions and lionesses. Therefore, males are much larger than the females; 2.5 metres (eight feet) as opposed to 1.7 metres (five and a half feet).
  • The males can weigh up to 250 kilogrammes (550 lbs) while females can weigh up to 180 kilogrammes (400 lbs).
  • In the wild, lions live up to 15 years, with males often living substantially less due to injuries sustained by fighting other lions. In captivity, lions can live to be as old as 25 years.
  • They are found in sub-Saharan Africa and in select parts of India.

Highly Recommended Reading

Born Wild: The Extraordinary Story of One Man’s Passion for Africa is a highly recommended book. Containing a heartfelt account by a lion conservationist it delivers a view of lions that others seldom receive.

For people living in Ireland or the United Kingdom, you can access: Born Wild: The Extraordinary Story of One Man’s Passion for Lions and for Africa. from here.

For those who live in Canada, you can obtain: Born Wild

For Germany: Born Wild

For France: Born Wild: The Extraordinary Story of One Man’s Passion for Africa.

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