Panthera leo melanochaita
Names: Mkango, Nkalamu or Shumbwa
Description: Muscular, broad-chested body, short, rounded head, round ears, and a hairy tuft at the end of its tail. Adult males are larger than females and have a prominent shaggy mane.Cubs are born with spots which disappear with age. They have strong, sharp retractable claws which they sharpen on trees. They have five toes on the front paws and four on the back. They also have a dewclaw on their front paws which helps to hold down prey when they are eating. Their whiskers are long and sensitive and each one has a black spot at its root – these spots make a unique pattern which helps researchers identify individuals. Lions have scent glands on their face, tail and in-between their toes. These produce an oily substance which helps to keep them waterproof. They have a good sense of smell and hearing.
The Southern African lion is an apex and keystone predator; Although some lions scavenge when opportunities occur and have been known to hunt humans, the species typically does not actively seek out and prey on humans.
Fun Facts !
The Panthera Leo is the largest African cat. Their roar can be heard up to 8 km away and they are the only cats that live in groups.
Ecology and Behaviour
Lions are the only true social cat. Related females live in groups called ‘prides’. These consist of four to six adults with sub-adults and their young. Males are either solitary or live in small groups called ‘coalitions’. They are mainly nocturnal, resting up to 20 hours during the day and hunting at night. They are carnivores, preying on a variety of animals, from small rodents to large antelope and even elephant with medium sized antelope, wildebeest and zebra forming the major part of their diet. Lions stalk their prey and then kill it by suffocation. Females preform 90% of hunting whilst males patrol their territory and protect their pride. Despite being powerful hunters, they are often not very successful and so will scavenge kills off other carnivores, such as leopard and hyena. An adult’s roar can be heard up to 8 km away. They are very vocal and communicate with each other by meows, grunts, grows, and snarls. They use body language to show how they are feeling, licking to show they are happy and relaxed whilst standing tall and hunching their backs to show they are unhappy. They also ‘scent-mark’ their territory.
It is not clear just how many lions there are in Zambia but only an estimate has been established. Threats to their numbers have been caused by habitat loss, disease, poisoning, the illegal wildlife trade and human wildlife conflict. Some of the best places to see lions in the wild are in the South Luangwa, Lower Zambezi and Kafue National Parks
Distribution and Habitat
Lions live in a variety of habitats, from deserts to grasslands and savannah woodlands. They can run up to 81 km per hour but only for a very short distance. Although they do not have any natural enemies, young cubs are killed by male lions trying to take over a pride, and by other carnivores such as hyena. Females give birth to three to six cubs after a gestation of about 110 days. Cubs are very dependent on their mothers, suckling until six months old. They learn social skills and how to hunt from all the members of their pride. When they are old enough to hunt by themselves at about two years old, the males will then leave the pride.
Interaction with humans
The main threats to Lions have been habitat loss, disease, poisoning, the illegal wildlife trade and human wildlife conflict.
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