Africa, Tanzania, Serengeti; Lions #1

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I did a lion page (Africa; Lions The Big Cat) back in mid-July but think that three (four actually but one page will be on the serval, cheetah, and leopard) more are needed. Everyone who goes on safari wants to see lions. The image of the King of The Beasts or The Lord of the Jungle permeate western cultures. The greatest of the hunters, the strongest of the African cats, and the most social feline in the world all work together to create this image and feed this desire. It matter little that they mostly just lie around with their entourage of flies and ticks. They sleep many many hours a day. After eating it is about all they do for 24-48 hours. Even when hungry they seem to rest a great deal. But the cats (lions, leopard, cheetah) draw the safari-goer onward and the thought of seeing them gets people out of bed at five a.m. to get a jump on daylight and to hopefully find a handsome pride of lions at a recent kill. Sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t.

This page will be on females; the pride. The next on the males (again), the third on lion sex, and the fourth on serval, cheetah, and leopard. The pride is the cluster of animals that harbors most of the lion group. It is a female group with youngsters and teenage kittens as well. The younger female may grow into the pride the post-puberty males will be sent packing; usually with a snarl and a bite on the rump. There are no fond, lingering, teary good-byes. The pride has a territory that is pretty stable. As long as there is a contingent of females that can hunt together successfully they will stay pretty much in the same area. The males will wander the perimeter of their territory which may or may not be coincidental with the pride. Sometimes there are several males working together and they can hold a large territory with more that one pride inside; other times it is one or two males with a single pride group. It varies and it changes.

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Lions are very social; the only cat to be social actually. Most of the time cats, of all types, are solitary or females with young. There are rarely groups of any sort of cat. Males and females get together to mate – usually without much of a personal touch. There can be small groups of male lions that work together to “own” a territory. But as only one of these chaps will breed, the group often diminishes down to two or perhaps three males as they split up looking to reproduce. The image above is pretty typical of lions – lyin’ around, so close as to be touching each other, in the grass, or under a tree in the shade, or in the road.

Lions are large and solid. Males can weigh as much as 500 pounds and females maybe 100 pounds less. Including the tail they can be eight feet in length and stand almost 4′ at the shoulder. They are big. I mentioned “King of the Jungle” earlier and just want to mention that the term “jungle” is not ecological of biological. It just means a really thickly vegetated area. It is best used along tropical rivers where the riparian edges are nearly impenetrable. In Africa, especially East Africa, the term is pretty much meaningless. The lion is certainly the King of the Savanna and perhaps even the Monarch of the Wooded Savanna but where there is no jungle…well s/he can still be King/Queen of the Beasts.

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Lions seem to know their status. When they want to lie down, they lie down. Surprisingly it is often near the dirt tracks that safari vehicles follow and many times it will be right in the road itself. Perhaps there is a better breeze in the open space of the roadway or perhaps there are fewer bothersome insects out of the grasses; insects bother lions as they didn’t seem to get the King of the Beasts memo. The shadows around the left edge and bottom of this images are parts of our vehicle – we were very close.
TZ 2017 lion
The females are often related. A group of sisters and female cousins raised in a pride will often become the pride of the future. This trip we saw two males and two females, all in different groups, with severe limps. Damaged legs can be the first sign of a significant changing of the guard. If the consortiums of males or members of the pride can no longer hunt then perhaps the end is near. There is competition for space and for females. If males are unable to feed themselves and stay healthy new males will enter the territory and take it over – after a lot of roaring, peeing, and fighting. Once they are taken over, the youngsters of the pride will be killed by the new males and soon the females will mate with the new guys and they will then have a vested interest in protecting the territory and the pride within. There is a lot of research on lions as they are threatened by poaching. The female on the right is wearing a collar that transmits information to the researchers.
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A rather usual family scene has a few females and several youngsters of rather similar ages. The synchrony in birthing is often related to the arrival of a new male consortium. The cycle works best when youngish healthy females form a pride with strong, youngish, healthy males as guardians. This arrangement might allow for two or even three litters to be born within a stable group of adults. But, so much can go wrong. Many adults never raise young to adulthood.
TZ 2017 lion
Though three or four young are the norm they all don’t survive. A female with one or two youngsters is not unusual. Mortality can come from many places; hyenas kill youngsters, thorns, infection, disease, diet, and all sorts of environmental impacts can affect the success of a group of kittens.
TZ 2017 lion
As many of the females in a pride will likely give birth at about the same time they will cross-suckle the youngsters. In many cases the young are frisky when the adults want to sleep. Generally they all get along but occasionally a female will tire of the young and snarl a bit before wandering off a few meters to get some peace and quiet.
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This female was quite happy sleeping is a wet and muddy area while five kittens nursed. This particular cat had a sister and a male or two around as well. The area was a drying mud hole in which a hippo had gotten bogged down and died (or was killed). It was food for the group even though the smell was terrible. (A picture of the hippo is in a future post. Ugh.)

 

 

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