Africa’s apex predator, witnessing a successful lion hunt is the stuff dreams are made of. Since lions are most active during daylight hours, such events are also easier to see than the hunts of other predatory species such as leopards.
Predominately seeking out zebra and wildebeest, the toughest lion prides will also take on another Big Five species – the Cape buffalo. This means these skillful hunters are willing to tackle prey up to three times their own body weight. Retractable claws and a powerful bite are their biggest weapons. But they are also known to steal prey from hyenas and other big cats.
It’s the females of a lion’s pride which do most of the hard work, and weigh around 350 lbs. The male head of the pride can weigh 500 lbs. The depth of color in a male lion’s mane is an indication of its age, with darker manes belonging to older animals. Unusually for members of the cat family, lions can’t purr.
Although tales abound of lions targeting humans, most famously the incident of the man-eating lions of Kenya’s Tsavo National Park, humans have lived peacefully beside lions for hundreds of years.
A different subspecies to the lions of the Indian subcontinent, African lions have a declining population and risk being recorded as endangered in the coming years. There are an estimated 24,000 wild lions in Africa today, with populations thought to have fallen by almost half since the 1990s.
Where to See Them
Lions inhabit the area south of the Sahara Desert. However, their broad historic distribution (as far north as ancient Egypt) has been limited to specific regions generally coinciding with protected areas such as national parks. Tanzania, home of the Serengeti, Nyerere (Selous) National Park, and Ngorongoro Crater, has the largest distribution of lions today. That’s alongside neighboring Kenya, and a tranfrontier region encompassing Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, Botswana’s Chobe, and Namibia’s Caprivi Strip. So-called ‘white lions’ can only be spotted in South Africa’s Kruger National Park and the adjoining Timbavati Private Game Reserve.