Lions, the king of the jungle or savannah. Lions are majestic animals that are found in Africa. Western India also has lions, but they are endangered and have been listed on the IUCN Red List since 1996. Even the population in Africa has declined by 43% since the early 1990s. Habitat loss and conflict with humans to find food has been some of the great causes for the endangerment of this animal.
Lions are very social and they live in groups or prides. These prides consist of a male lion sometimes more than one, females and their cubs. Females are the ones usually doing the hunting, but the males also hunt. The males are often needed to take down larger prey, like buffalo, giraffe, or even young elephants.
Lions are carnivores, meaning they only eat meat and they need to hunt for their meals. But they are also opportunistic, they will not shy away from a carcass of a dead animal. Or chase another predator, like a leopard or cheetah from their kill, lions are much bigger so other predators will always move away. Here is a quick look at their most common foods;
mammals are the main food source for lions. They hunt in packs to take down larger mammals such as giraffes, hippos, rhinos, young elephants or buffalos. If the pack is small, lions will focus on smaller mammals such as antelopes, zebras and warthogs. Lions may even eat other predatory species such as hyenas and cheetahs if times are tough.
Lions don’t usually focus on reptiles. In extreme cases, they will however try to catch and eat reptiles such as crocodiles, tortoises and lizards. These foods are usually an acceptance to their natural food because lions hunt at night and reptiles usually go into hiding at night since their bodies cannot function well in the cold.
Lions will hunt and eat all sorts of small animals. Small animals like mice, birds, hares, rat and other rodents can be valuable food sources for young lions and for single lions who might find it hard to take down large prey on their own.
Lions will eat almost all meat sources including aquatic animals. They are not the best swimmers but in rare cases will master up the courage to catch fish or hunt aquatic animals like seals.
Lions who are kept in captivity are often offered supplements to keep them healthy. Calcium and amino acids are often added to their foods before offering these to the lions. These supplements are especially important if lions do not have access to a versatile diet.
These animals cannot survive without water. They can go up to four days without drinking water. Ideally, they should have access to fresh water at least once per day to keep them from becoming dehydrated.
Lions will often guard the carcasses of their kill for days. They do this because food can sometimes be scarce. In this time, they will eat as much carrion meat from carcasses as they can. It is not uncommon for lions to scavenge for carrion meats if they are extremely hungry. They might even attack scavenging animals such as hyenas and rob them of their food.
These animals may resort to strange foods in tough times. They will occasionally hunt odd foods such as reptiles and fish if food is scarce. Lions may also scavenge on carcasses if they are very hungry. In extreme cases, lions will even attempt to eat plant matter such as grass.
Lions are not picky eaters, they will take every chance they can to catch something or score a free meal. They will hunt buffaloes, antelope, zebras, rhinos, young elephants, warthogs, giraffes, crocodiles, and so much more. They will even take on a porcupine, mostly that will be the youngsters as they still haven’t learned that porcupines have a very sharp end.
The youngsters will even have a go at rodents and tortoises.
There is an order of who gets to eat first once a kill has been made. The males they will eat first once they are full, they will move away from the kill. Then the females and younger lions will eat and the cubs will get the scraps that are left over.
They hunt mostly at night as darkness offers them more protection and makes it difficult for the prey to spot them. They can stalk the prey and get up close before they attack. Another reason they prefer hunting at night time is that it is much cooler. They normally rest during the day but can also be active in the early mornings or late afternoon.
Once their prey has been captured, they will start eating. One lion will suffocate the prey, biting the throat, closing the airway. The other lions will usually start at the hind quarters since most of the meat is in that area. Lions don’t normally eat the intestines, but during harsh, dry seasons, they will since the intestines contain a lot of moisture.
Lions don’t normally eat vegetation, but in some cases they do to survive. The African savannah can be a very cruel place during the dry season and will leave a lion desperate.
Young lions, on the verge of starvation, will eat grass even just to fill their stomachs for a while and not have the feeling of being hungry. This usually results in the lion vomiting and feeling all hungry all over again.
Lions cannot survive without meat. Human bodies produce amino acids naturally, which helps us to survive, but lions don’t produce amino acids. That is why they need large quantities of meat. Their bodies absorb the nutrients from the mammals that they kill.
Specific enzymes are produced by the lion’s stomach and this aids in breaking down the large quantities of meat that the lion eats at a time.
Lions are believed to feed every four to five days and can even go more than a week without eating.
If lions did eat every single day, they would require about 5-7kg of meat per day. But in nature it doesn’t work like that.
When a kill is made lions can eat up to 20-25% of their body weight. Take a large male lion for example, they weigh about 200kg (440lbs) that is almost 50kg of their own body weight that they consume in one sitting. Females average about 130kg (286lbs) so they can eat about 20-30kg of meat.
After having a large meal like that, it is understandable they can go a week before needing to eat again.
If the lions made a large kill, they will keep around the carcass for days since it is unsure when their next meal will be. They will defend the carcass until there is nothing more left than just a pile of bones.
Lions that are in captivity don’t need to hunt for their food since they are fed. Their diets vary from sheep, beef, rabbits, chicken, and horse meat. These foods might lack the essential minerals that are required in a big cats diet. Calcium and amino acids are usually added, ensuring that these captive lions have a healthy diet.
A female lion can give birth to upto 6 cubs but usually litters for 2-3 are more commonly found. These cubs will suckle until the age of about 10 months old, even though the mother will start the warning process at about 10 weeks, then they will be fully weaned.
The lionesses in the pride will let any cub suckle if his own mother isn’t nearby. They don’t show favouritism for their own cubs and it enhances their own cubs success, by helping to raise the other cubs.
At about three months of age lion cubs are introduced to meat for the first time. The older they get the more meat they will eat and less will be the need to suckle.
Lioness milk has a high nutritional value, especially in the early weeks. As these cubs are not introduced to the pride until they are at least 8 weeks old. So their mother will feed them and leave them for a few hours while she is hunting, feeding herself to produce milk for the cubs.
For the first two years lion cubs rely greatly on their mothers to provide them with food as they are still too young to hunt or still learning these essential tactics.
When they reach 3 years old they are fully grown and are able to hunt with the lionesses.
Lions don’t have a natural enemy that will kill them to eat them. They can get injured when they go hunting. They risk getting gored by a buffalo or blue wildebeest or risk getting trampled by an elephant.
Buffalo are a favourite of the lion to hunt, yet one of the most dangerous. Buffalos kill a lot of lions or badly injure them.
Hyenas and wild dogs are also a risk for injured or old lions that can not defend themselves. Lions, hyenas and wild dogs are arch enemies and will kill each other’s young and old and injured.
All of these are predators and they are competition for one another when it comes to food and its resources.
But one of the most dangerous animals to lions, is the human being. They are bred in captivity and the cubs are taken to a petting farm where tourists can pet them and take photos with them. But once they grow too big to handle they are returned and raised further in captivity.
Once they are fully grown they are most likely to be hunted, more known as canned lion hunting. These lions will be killed either with a rifle or bow and arrow. These lions are drugged and moved onto a farm and baited with an animal carcass. The hunters know exactly where the lion will be, so it has no fair chance of escape.
Lions are also killed, most often poisoned, their paws, head, and the male genitalia cut off and sold on the black market. Thousands of lions are killed each year just for this.
Lions are beautiful, majestic creatures that belong in the wild and should be roaming free in the savanna and the African plains. In captivity they tend to be overweight since they don’t exercise or hunt for their food. It can be very expensive to properly care for a lion in captivity.
It is estimated that about 20,000 wild lions still remain in Africa, which is half the amount of 30 years ago. At the rate that lions are being hunted and killed, they will be extinct by the year 2050. You might only be able to see them at zoo’s or worse, museums, in the near future.
You can do your part in protecting these magnificent creatures, travel to national parks and game reserves, where lions are still “free” instead of held in small cages or enclosures. Supporting these infrastructures helps secure the future of these beautiful animals.