African lion Panthera leo nubica
The numbers of the African lions are higher than those of the Asiatic lions. The dramatic decline in lion populations across Africa started in the beginning of XX century, when big game, especially lions and elephants, were massively exterminated in hunting safaris of “white hunters” from Western countries.
The African lions are larger than Asiatic lions; males are 180-240 cm long, not including the tail (60-90 cm), and their weights range between 180 and 227 kg; besides, their manes are more rich and dense. African lions live in prides with a core consisting of several females. The females are usually closely related and have their own home range (daughters inherit home ranges of their mothers). None of the lionesses is dominant and all of them demonstrate cooperative behavior. There could be a few males in the pride (most often they are brothers), in which cases one of the males becomes dominant and other male lions recognize and accept his dominance. The dominant male is the first to get to the prey after successful hunt, he is the first to mate with females, and it is he who attacks an enemy – alien lion male intruding into the pride’s territory. Pride sizes average 13 animals, but groups up to 40 lions have been observed where prey is abundant all year round. The size of the home range of the pride depends on the landscape, prey abundance and number of lions in the pride; it may vary from 20 to 400 km2. Prides exist for a few years. Females hunt and raise cubs together, while males defend their territory by marking it with their urine mixed with secretion from anal glands, and demonstrating their presence by loud roaring that could be heard from the distance of 8 or 9 km. If the intruder is not averted by these demonstrations, the dominant male will have to defend his pride and territory. The fights between equally strong lion males may result in the death of both of them. If an outside male takes over the pride, he kills all little cubs so that the lionesses could give birth to his own offspring.
The gestation lasts from 102 to 110 days. Before the birth, the female leaves the rest of the pride and finds a den in a secluded place, where she gives birth to a litter of two to four blind and helpless cubs. The newborns weigh less than 2 kg and are 30 cm long at birth. Unlike adult animals, lion cubs have spotted fur. They walk around, play near the den and start eating meat at six weeks of age, and when they are ten weeks old, the mother brings them into her pride. Nursing lionesses can nurse other female’s cubs, and orphaned cubs usually survive. The lion fathers are also very tender towards their cubs. By the age of 14 weeks the cubs follow their mother on her hunt but they become capable of killing prey only when they reach the age of one year. Young males normally leave the pride at 3 or 4 years of age, but females may stay for life.
Asiatic lion Panthera leo persica
We all have known of the image of the Lion, the King of the Animals, since our childhood. This magnificent large cat has a strong body but it is fit and even lean; the head is very heavy, with quite a long face; the legs are short but very strong. Of all felids, only lions have tufts on their tails, and only lions feature so pronounced sexual dimorphism (the difference in appearance between males and females): the males have wonderful thick, long manes spreading behind the shoulders and covering the belly, while the females do not have manes and are much smaller than males (Pictures 2, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12).
The Asiatic lion, also known as the Indian lion, is a lion subspecies that once was widespread in Asia but now occurs only in India’s Gir Forest that serves the last refuge for about 400 individuals. The Asiatic lion is threatened with extinction because human population density is very high in India, and this carnivore does not have any chances to survive territorial competition with people outside Gir Nature Reserve. Asiatic lions are slightly smaller than African lions (adult males weigh 160 to 190 kg, while females weigh 110 to 120 kg), are less heavy and have more modest manes that rather stick to their bodies (Pictures 5, 6, 7, 14). The Asiatic lions have stockier bodies which gives a false impression of their smaller sizes comparing with African lions (Pictures 1, 3, 4).
All lions are social animals (which is not typical for felids) and they often live in groups called prides, but while there are usually two females in the pride of Asiatic lions, prides of African lions include from 4 to 6 lionesses. Each pride controls its own hunting territory, defending it from other lions, with males being responsible for the territory protection while hunting is mostly the prerogative of the females. Dominant male is the first to approach the prey, and the females are allowed to get to the prey after him. A lion may eat up to 25-30 kg in one sitting, but when these lazy carnivores have enough food, they may sleep as long as 20 hours a day. In general, lions prey on large species, such as deer, antelopes, buffalos, and wild bores.
The female leaves the pride some time before birth and usually gives birth to a litter of 1 to 6 cubs (three on average). In the beginning, the mother raises the cubs on her own but after she brings them to the pride to introduce to the family, other lionesses with cubs may nurse her offspring. The role of the male consists predominantly in the protection of cubs from nomads – sole lion males; besides, males make sure that the young lions receive their share of prey. The cubs weigh 1.2–2.0 kg at birth, and have dark spots on their fur which disappear when the cubs reach the age of three months. Their eyes do not open until 11th day after birth; they start walking on the 15th day, and weaning occurs at the age of 7-10 months. The cubs start accompanying the adults on their hunts and can kill a prey by the age of 11 months, but only after they are 16-month old, they have some chances to survive independently. Young males normally leave the pride at 3 or 4 years of age, but females may stay for life.