Facts you need to know about lions
Today is the World Lion Day which is celebrated on August 10 of every year. The purposes of this is to raise awareness about lions and to mobilise support for their protection and conservation world over.
Currently according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), there are as few as 23,000 lions left in the wild and that the species has disappeared from over 90% of their historical range.
African lions numbers are thought to have declined by over 40% in the just three generations and the main threats to them are retaliatory or pre-emptive killing to protect people and livestock, and decreasing natural prey and habitat, due to expanding human settlements and therefore less available grazing.
When their natural prey is scarce, lions can cause grave losses to livestock, which can destroy the income of local people, in turn, these communities especially around protected areas retaliate and kill the lions in revenge.
But also climate change is another increasing threat to the existence of lions since extreme weather conditions may cause more droughts or delay the rains, affecting the feeding habits of lions’ prey.
Lions are also largely killed for the illegal wildlife trade and according to reports, in recent years, the demand for lion bone as a substitute for tiger bone in traditional Asian medicine has risen.
African lions are the largest and most imposing carnivore on the continent and are the only true social cats with special cultural significance in most countries on the continent.
In Uganda, lions enjoy a reputation as ‘king of the beasts’ and are popular symbols of royalty, strength and bravery. At times, they are called the king of the jungle but they actually only live in grasslands and plains.
Interestingly, males are occasionally thrown out of their prides at the age of 3-4 years by the dominant male(s) and will try to take over a pride when they get to 7-10 years old. Males usually hold a pride for 2-3 years only before being ousted by another male or coalition of males.
Females generally stay in the same area as their mothers, occasionally moving to an adjacent pride when sub adult, and rear a litter of cubs every two years. The highest mortality of lions is in the cubs with often whole litters being killed by other predators or buffalos.
When it comes to life expectancy, lions have an average lifespan of about 12 years in the African wild. They have a gestation period of around 110 days and a lioness usually gives birth to a litter of about 3 cubs.
A pride of lions is usually made up of related females and their cubs, plus a male or small group of males who defend it. The lionesses rear their cubs together and cubs can suckle from any female with milk.
Lions consume a wide variety of prey, from wildebeest, impala, zebra, giraffe, buffalo and wild hogs to sometimes rhinos and hippos. They will also feed on smaller animals such as hares, birds and reptiles. Lions are also known to attack elephants when food is scarce.
Lions often hunt in packs .It is the females that go out to hunt for prey/food. The male’s role is to protect.
Lions can eat up to 40kg of meat in a single meal – around a quarter of their body weight. Their tongues have sharp-pointed rasps, called papillae, which are used to scrape meat off the bones.
In a lion pack/family, the little ones usually eat last. They are the last in line for the share.
In Uganda, lions are mainly found in the three largest savannah parks: Murchison Falls National Park, Kidepo Valley National Park and Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP).
In QENP, the Ishasha lions are known for their unique behavior of climbing trees and have been branded the “Ishasha tree-climbing lions” by tourists. Lions, after mountain gorillas, are the most sought-after species by tourists visiting Uganda.
The census of 2007 to 2010 gave an estimate of about 408 lions while that of 2011 to 2017 showed an increase to 493 lions countrywide.
According to WWF, nearly all wild lions live in Africa, below the Sahara Desert, but one small population exists around Gir Forest National Park in western India. Lions in west and central Africa are more closely related to these Asiatic lions in India, than to those found in southern and east Africa.