Animal Info Lions History and Behavior

About the history of lions, life in Africa in prides, nocturnal behavior and diet, threat of poachers.



The lion's ancient habitat extended from eastern Europe to India and throughout Africa, but human beings encroached upon its territory until, by 200 A.D., it had disappeared from Europe and the Middle East.

In the early 1900s, a few pairs lived in India. They were a tourist attraction in the Gir Sanctuary in Gujarat State. In 1955 they numbered 290; by 1968 only 177 survived.

The lion now is found almost exclusively in the game preserves of Africa, with the greatest number in Tanzania's 5,700-sq.-mi. Serengeti National Park.

For centuries lions have represented power and magnificence. In ancient Egypt they symbolized a godlike force; in Greece and Assyria, they were coupled with goddesses; and in early Christian art, they were used to depict St. Mark or even Christ himself. Later, they appeared on royal and aristocratic coats of arms.

Lions are social animals that live in prides of 2 to 40 animals. One dominant male in each pride is king. He is first in mating, first at the kill. He sets up his territory (about 40 or 50 sq. mi.) by spraying bushes with a mixture of urine and a glandular secretion and then announces his claim with a monstrous roar.

Being nocturnal, lions usually hunt large herbivorous animals in darkness. In daylight their twitching ears can tip off the quarry. Lionesses are chiefly responsible for providing food. This, it seems, doesn't stem from the male's indolence but from his too easily detectable mane.

Lions will eat an already dead animal. At times they are also cannibalistic and, occasionally, they become man-eaters. Many years ago, a pair of lions killed and ate 28 laborers working on the Mombasa-to-Uganda railroad.

In a heavily stocked game preserve, a 350-lb. lion will kill 45 lb. of food daily. Lions' appetite in captivity is much smaller--10 to 15 lb. a day. They have also been known to live for several weeks without any food.

If the lions' hunger in captivity matched their jungle appetite, hunters would probably never have been tempted to capture them for pets, circuses, zoos, and such attractions as Lion Safari Country in California.

Big-game hunters and poachers are a lion's chief enemies. Most African preserves have reduced the "sport" of lion killing. Further insurance for the lion's conservation has come from Kenya, which on May 19, 1977, banned wildlife hunting. Kenya's next goal is to stamp out all poaching.

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