A firm favourite to spot on safari, lions are undeniably beautiful, majestic apex predators. From the distance their roars carry to whether females go for blonde or dark-maned males, brush up on your knowledge with these roar-some lion facts.
1. You can hear a lion’s roar from up to 8 kilometres away
There’s nothing like waking up at night on safari and hearing those spine-tingling roars in the distance. Lions have the loudest roars of all big cats.
2. They can run at up to 80 kilometres (50 miles) per hour
However, this is only in short bursts and lions will usually make sure they are as close as possible to their prey before attacking; impalas can sprint at up to 90 km/h (56 mph) and springboks can reach 95 km/h (59 mph). Meanwhile, cheetahs, the fastest land animal, can hit 120 km/h (75 mph).
3. The average lifespan of a wild lion is 12 years
They can live up to 25 years in captivity.
4. Lion cubs are born with blue eyes
After a couple of months, they change to brown.
5. The gestation period is 110 days
Lionesses usually give birth to two or three cubs, but up to six is possible. They are then weaned after eight months of suckling and will stay with their mother until around two years old, by which time they’ll have learnt how to hunt.
6. They mate for three days, non-stop
Yep. To ensure the best chance of conception, a pair will spend three days together, mating every 30 minutes, though only for around 20 seconds each time.
7. They’re super sociable
Most cats are fairly solitary, but lions are the opposite. They form prides that can be over 20 at their largest. Whereas females will usually stay in the pride into which they were born, males are often cast out or leave to form their own prides, joining up with other males in coalitions to take on larger or stronger dominant males together. When a new male takes over a pride, he’ll kill any cubs before mating with the females.
8. Females do most of the hunting – but males do hunt
It’s a common misconception that male lions do not hunt at all – though their main role is the protection of the pride. Females tend to do around 85% of the hunting.
9. They are opportunistic hunters
Lions will kill even if they’re not hungry – they never know when the opportunity will next occur.
10. They’ll also steal from other predators
Lions will happily muscle in on the kills of cheetahs, leopards, wild dogs and hyenas.
11. They eat every three or four days
However, they can go without food for over a week. In these cases, they will gorge themselves on their next kill – eating up to 50 kilograms of meat in one go.
12. Lions hunt a wide variety of animals – even giraffes
Lions kill all kinds of animals: usually various antelope (kudu, gemsbok, waterbuck, etc.), zebras and wildebeest. Strong prides can take down buffaloes and lions have even been known to kill giraffes. They’ll also pick off baby elephants and hippos, and will also eat pretty much anything else they can find, including porcupines and pangolins.
13. They usually stalk their prey
They stay downwind, inching closer to an unsuspecting animal, until it is around 30 metres away – only then will they charge. Another tactic is to wait and ambush the prey when it wanders close enough. If the animal escapes, lions won’t pursue it far. They’ll kill big animals like buffalo by suffocation, whilst smaller animals die a quicker death by having their necks broken.
14. They mostly hunt at night
Lions are most active after dark, so if you’re on safari the best time to see them is first thing in the morning or in the evening.
15. They’re not very successful hunters
Compared to fellow predators, lions have a very low success rate: thought to be around 30% as a group, where they’re far more effective, but only 18% as individuals.
16. Males eat first, cubs last
There’s a pecking order when it comes to food. Males eat first, then the lionesses. Cubs eat after the lionesses, their mothers feeding themselves first – if there’s not much food or it’s been a long spell between kills, the weakest and smallest might not even eat at all.
17. Lions sleep for up to 20 hours a day
When they’re not hunting or, for males, patrolling their territory, lions sleep. Males sleep for between 18 and 20 hours a day, whilst females get around 15 to 18 hours.
18. Dark manes are more attractive to female lions
Dark manes are associated with higher testosterone and good health, which is probably why females seem to prefer these lions. Dark manes and coats are often seen in animals who live in harsh conditions, such as in the Kalahari Desert, where it can be bitterly cold at night – the thick, black manes trap heat.
19. Males can weigh up to 225 kilograms
Females can weigh up to 150 kilograms.
20. Lions are the biggest African cats
And the second biggest cat in the world after tigers.
21. They have four back claws and an extra one on their front paws
The front fifth claw is called the ‘dewclaw’ and is used for holding down prey.
Want to see lions in the wild? Let’s make it happen!