Wednesday, July 9, 2014

East African Lion

There are eight subspecies of lion, distinguished mostly by mane appearance, size and distribution. Two are now extinct, at least in the wild: the Barbary lion which ranged from Morocco to Egypt, and the Cape lion which was found in South Africa. A third, the Asiatic lion, was found from Turkey to Pakistan, and now only about 400 exist in the wild, in the Gir Forest of India. The remaining five species are found in Africa. The East African or Masai lion is found in East Africa from Ethiopia and Kenya to Tanzania and Mozambique. 
A solitary male in the savannah of Masai Mara in Kenya.
The East African lion weighs an average of 386 pounds for a male and 263 pounds for a female compared to 418 pounds for a male and 280 pounds for a female Transvaal lion. The mane of the adult male lion is a distinctive characteristic and unique among cats. The darker and fuller the mane, the healthier the lion. 
Two males in the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania.

We did not see any males initially, so it was a real thrill when we finally saw some. 
A pride of lions consists of five or six females, their cubs of both sexes, and one or two males who mate with the females. Male cubs get excluded when they reach maturity at two to three years of age. Lionesses do most of the hunting as they are more effective, being smaller, faster and more agile. The mane causes overheating during exertion and is conspicuous. Several lionesses typically work together and encircle a herd from different points. The attack is short with the victim usually killed by strangulation. They have a preference for wildebeest (half of the diet in the Serengeti), then zebra, as well as buffalo and warthogs, but will take other game when these others are not available. 
This females sits in the grass, looking on at some zebra in the distance.
This lioness, which had been guarding cubs, reacts when a herd of zebra trot by. Other lionesses had been hunting these zebra.
Conclusion of a successful hunt. This was a different pride, but also in the Masai Mara.
Two lionesses feed on a zebra.
Lions dominate other felines like the cheetah and leopard where they co-occur, stealing their kills and killing their cubs. The cheetah has a 50% chance of losing its kill to lions or other predators and lions kill many cheetah cubs (only about 10% of cheetah cubs survive the first few weeks). Aside from the human, the only animal that threatens the lion is the Nile crocodile. 

When a lioness is in heat, mating may last over several days and the couple may copulate 20 to 40 times a day. We saw a mating couple in Nairobi National Park. Both were resting near each other, had a brief fling, then the male walked away. 
This mating couple in Nairobi NP stand up and engage each other briefly, after laying apart for awhile.
The male and female then prepare to copulate. It was all over pretty quickly. The female rolled over on her back, paws in the air, and the male walked away.
Females give birth to a litter of one to four cubs. The lioness will move the cubs to new den sites several times a month, carrying them one by one by the nape of the neck. The female will hunt alone and seclude herself while the cubs are young. When the cubs are six to eight weeks old, the mother will integrate herself back into the pride. Young cubs will suckle indiscriminately from any or all of the nursing females in the pride. 
A solitary lioness in Masai Mara, near her den.
Cubs outside the den.
We saw the females act interchangeably with the cubs, some taking turns with the cubs while others stalked prey.
A lioness with cubs of varying ages.
Several lionesses with at least six cubs. In the Masai Mara.
The cubs were very cute and playful. 

A beautiful picture of a female going for some water.
I spent hours going through more than 500 photos of lions from our group of 12 people, as well as photos from Steven Shuel who was on our trip. The photos above were some of my favorites. 


  1. So much to love: the hunting Mamas, the interchangeable nursing, the playful cubs. I didn't know they were so hard on other feline groups--very interesting. I can see why you had so many pictures of lions-they are so interesting.

  2. I'm interested that you were able to catch a photo of one of the lions with a freshly killed zebra. This would be the highlight of a safari - to see something most of us only get to view from our televisions. I can't imagine how you're going to top it. You have given yourself buffet of memories here.

  3. Lions in zoos, when you can see them, are usually sleeping. It was a thrill to see these animals wandering around their world and doing what lions do. One of the highlights of the trip for me.