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#Natureology Species of the Day – Lion (Panthera leo)

January 14, 2013

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Lion (Panthera leo) seems to be an animal that has inspired the imagination of man more than then any other beast. Characterised as fearsome, courageous and majestic, the lion’s strength and ferocity has earned it the title of ‘King of the Beasts’ in many cultures.  However few people realize that illegal killing, relentless habitat loss, and habitat fragmentation has left this species teetering on the brink of extinction. Nearly a century ago, there were as many as 200,000 lions living in the wild in Africa.  Today, the most recent surveys estimate that there are fewer than 15,244 lions remain in the wild of Africa.

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Biology

Male lions are larger than females and typically posses a mane of hair around their heads, a feature unique amongst the cat family (the Felidae) . The rest of the coat is short and tawny in colour for both sexes, paler on the underside, without markings. The backs of the ears and the tuft of hair at the tip of the tail are dark brown or black. Lion cubs are born with brown rosettes that disappear with maturity, although some lions retain faint spots.As one of the largest of the ‘big cats’, the lion is built to prey on animals many times its size, its strong jaws and muscular build emanating an image of sheer power.

Lions live for 10–14 years in the wild, Lions spend much of their time resting and are inactive for about 20 hours per day.  Lions are powerful animals that usually hunt in coordinated groups and stalk their chosen prey. However, they are not particularly known for their stamina – for instance, a lioness’ heart makes up only 0.57 percent of her body weight (a male’s is about 0.45 percent of his body weight), whereas a hyena’s heart is close to 1 percent of its body weight. Thus, they only run fast in short bursts,and need to be close to their prey before starting the attack. They sneak up to the victim until they reach a distance of around 30 metres (98 ft) or less. The lioness is the one who does the hunting for the pride, since the lioness is more aggressive by nature.

Lions are the most socially inclined of all wild felids, most of which remain quite solitary in nature. The lion is a predatory carnivore who manifest two types of social organization. Some are residents, living in groups, called prides. The pride usually consists of five or six related females, their cubs of both sexes, and one or two males (known as a coalition if more than one) who mate with the adult females (although extremely large prides, consisting of up to 30 individuals, have been observed). Most lionesses will have reproduced by the time they are four years of age. The average gestation period is around 110 days, the female giving birth to a litter of one to four cubs in a secluded den (which may be a thicket, a reed-bed, a cave or some other sheltered area) usually away from the rest of the pride.

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Threats

Lions are not only an iconic species important to very many people all over the world, but they are also a vital component of African ecosystems. The lion is threatened by a diversity of challenges to future existence including loss of habitat, loss of natural prey due to commercial and subsistence poaching, unsustainable levels of trophy hunting, human/wildlife conflict and a whole new level of threat involving substitution of lion bones for tiger bones to supply the demands of Asian Traditional Medicine. We are currently paying lip service to the conservation needs of a species so greatly important to our cultures, history, and indeed the health of wildlife biodiversity in Africa.

Lions have vanished from over 80 percent of their historic range and currently exist in 28 countries in Africa and one country in Asia (India). They are extinct in 26 countries.  Only 7 countries: Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe are believed to each contain more than 1,000 lions. It is estimates that only 15,244 lions remain on the entire continent with only 645-795 wild lions remaining in western and central Africa and 14,450 wild lions remaining in eastern and southern Africa.

Just 5 populations are likely to number over 1,000 lions – located in: Tanzania/Kenya (3); South Africa (1); Botswana/Zimbabwe (1). LionAid believes that lion populations have declined for a variety of reasons including habitat loss; destruction of natural prey due to poaching for households and the bush meat trade; human/livestock/predator conflict; impact of diseases like canine distemper, bovine tuberculosis and feline immunodeficiency virus; illegal wildlife trade in lion products and live animals, and excessive trophy hunting.

Conservation

Conservationist are trying hard to save the African lion in key landscapes by mitigating human-lion conflict, and building or restoring connectivity between landscapes that are critical for the lion’s survival. Conserving lions range-wide will have far-reaching impacts. In targeting vast landscapes where the threats are greatest, we also maintain ecosystem functions. By focusing on the majestic African lion, Conservationist  intend to protect many other irreplaceable species of flora and fauna on the African continent. And finally, because our work addresses the reasons that people are negatively impacted by the presence of lions, our strategy is uniquely geared to safeguarding human livelihoods and human health.

In Africa, Lions are present in a number of large and well-managed protected areas, and remain one of the most popular animals on the must-see lists of tourists and visitors to Africa. Most range states in East and Southern Africa have an infrastructure which supports wildlife tourism, and in this way Lions generate significant cash revenue for park management and local communities and provide a strong incentive for wildland conservation.

Lion Conservation Strategy focuses on three primary objectives to address threats that directly impact Lions: to reduce Lion-human conflict, and to conserve and increase Lion habitat and wild prey base. The objectives of the  Lion Conservation Strategy are articulated around the root issues in Lion conservation, including policy and land use, socio-economics, trade, and conservation politics.

For example, the policy and land use objective is “to develop and implement harmonious and comprehensive legal and institutional frameworks that provide for the expansion of wildife-integrated land use, Lion conservation and associated socio-economic benefits in current and potential Lion range.” The trade objective is “to prevent illegal trade in Lions and Lion products while promoting and safeguarding sustainable legal trade.” Both regional strategies share common priorities of conserving and restoring Lion populations, improving management capacity, and increasing the flow of benefits to communities living with Lions.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. January 15, 2013 12:18 am

    Reblogged this on Our Endangered Planet and it's Wildlife..

    Like

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