What animal can beat a lion?

Lion (panthera leo)

habitatSavannah, bushland, sandy desert
Geographical distributionSouthern edge of the Sahara as far as South Africa (except in the central African rainforest), relic population in the Gir National Park in India
Endangerment statusIUCN: "endangered", subspecies Asiatic lion (P. l. Persica): "critically endangered", CITES: Appendix II, subspecies Asiatic lion (P. l. Persica): Appendix I.
Stock sizeworldwide: 19,000 to 31,000 individuals, trend: decreasing

Where are lions classified in the zoological system?

Of orders, families and species

The lion (Panthera leo) belongs to the order of the carnivores, to the family of cats and just like the tiger, the jaguar, the leopard and the snow leopard to the genus of the panther cats. Until recently, two subspecies were distinguished as follows within the species of lion: the African lion P. l. leo and the Asiatic lion P. l. persica. However, recent studies have shown that the lions in Asia and West and Central Africa are more closely related than those in South and East Africa. Therefore, the relationships are currently being investigated further. Until the final scientific clarification, the big cat experts of the World Conservation Union IUCN suggest the following classification of lions: The lions in Asia, West and Central Africa belong to the subspecies P. l. leo. In addition, the lions in South and East Africa form the subspecies P. l. melanochaita. It is assumed that this classification will soon be scientifically confirmed.Panthera leo) belongs to the order of the carnivores, to the family of cats and just like the tiger, the jaguar, the leopard and the snow leopard to the genus of the panther cats. Until recently, two subspecies were distinguished as follows within the species of lion: the African lion P. l. leo and the Asiatic lion P. l. persica. However, recent studies have shown that the lions in Asia and West and Central Africa are more closely related than those in South and East Africa. Therefore, the relationships are currently being investigated further. Until the final scientific clarification, the big cat experts of the World Conservation Union IUCN suggest the following classification of lions: The lions in Asia, West and Central Africa belong to the subspecies P. l. leo. In addition, the lions in South and East Africa form the subspecies P. l. melanochaita. It is assumed that this classification will soon be scientifically confirmed.

Features, properties and special features

Lions are the second largest cats in the world, only surpassed by tigers in size and weight. Male lions are much larger, especially stronger and significantly heavier than the females. The length of the body of the head measures 172-250 cm in males and 158-192 cm in females. The shoulder height is 107-123 cm and the tail length about 1 m. Males weigh 150-225 kg and females 110-192 kg. The lions in Asia are a bit smaller overall.

Lions are particularly muscular cats with a strong physique and powerful muscles on their shoulders and hind legs. The paws are broad and strong and each equipped with four sharp claws retracted at rest. The head is large with a wide, rounded mouth, strong jaws and long canine teeth.

Unique to cats, male lions have a mane that, depending on the subspecies and distribution area, surrounds the head, neck, shoulders, chest and stomach. The mane represents a noticeable gender difference, makes a male lion appear even larger and more impressive and clearly recognizes him as a male from a distance. In fights, the mane protects the neck and dampens paws. Studies have shown that females prefer males with darker and full manes. The darker the mane, the higher the testosterone level and the better the male's nutritional status. The more often a male has to take it in battle, the more his mane suffers. So the mane is an indicator of the strength and superiority of a male.

The fur of the lions is monochrome light to dark beige and a little lighter on the belly and the inside of the legs. The mane of the males is blond, red-brown or black, depending on the subspecies and the distribution area. The tail has a dark tuft of hair on the tip. In the Kruger National Park there are individual lions with what is known as a defect mutation, which means that their fur is white. Blacklings are not known in lions.

Asiatic lions typically have a longitudinal fold of skin under their abdomen, which is rare in African lions. In addition, the mane of the Asian male lion is sparse and leaves the ears uncovered.

The social organization, activity and communication

Lions typically live gregariously in packs. This is a unique way of life in the cat family. A pack usually consists of three to eight females, their young and two to three males. The pack size can be between 3 and 45 lions, depending on the availability of prey. The females usually stay in the pack in which they were born for life and are all more or less related to one another. If several males belong to the pack, one speaks of a male coalition. Some of the coalition partners are related to each other, but not to the females, and only belong to the pack for an average of two to three years. There is no hierarchy in a pack. Only in times of hunger do the males have priority when eating because of their greater strength. The pack members often split up into small groups or go their own way. Young males without a pack, older males who have lost their pack, and females displaced because of the pack's oversize are nomadic.

A pack lives in a fixed territory. The size of the area depends on the availability of the prey. In regions with high yields, the districts are smaller and their size is around 50-200 km². There are up to 40 lions per 100 km². In regions with little loot, the territories are much larger and have a spread of up to 5000 km². The population density of the lions is then only 1-3 animals per square kilometer. Both sexes defend the territory against same-sex lions. The pack members mark their territory by roaring and with scent marks. The roar occurs mainly in the evening at dusk and in the morning at sunrise, sometimes even in the pack choir and can be heard about five to ten kilometers away. The scent marking is carried out by glandular secretions that are transmitted through head and body rubbing as well as scratching and urinating. The pack men also show their presence with regular patrols through the area.

Social activities and interactions play a big role in Lions. Your facial expressions and body language are highly developed. In the so-called greeting, the lions exchange the characteristic pack smell by rubbing their head and body. With so-called grooming, mutual personal hygiene, bonds are strengthened. In addition, lions, young and old, play a lot with each other.

In lions, cooperation can mainly be observed in the defense of the territory and in the defense of the pack against a pack takeover by new males. In addition, the females raise their offspring together and even suckle the young of other females. Evolutionary pride formation in lions probably arose in connection with a specialization in particularly large prey, better defense of prey against other predators, greater success in rearing in the group and a high population density of the lions.

What is known about lion reproduction

From mating through the development of the young to adulthood

In lions, the females become sexually mature at around three to four years of age and then have their first offspring. Males become sexually mature at two to three years of age, but only have the opportunity to reproduce when they have a pack. Female lions get heated for several days on average every two to three weeks, with the females in a pack typically becoming ready to mate at the same time. Mating is loud and aggressive in Lions. In the end, the male typically bites the female's neck. Males and females stay together continuously throughout the heat and mate on average every 15 minutes day and night, a total of about 300 times per heat. However, the conception rate in a heat is only about 20-25 percent. On average, about 1200-1500 matings are necessary for each birth of a litter. Presumably, this low conception rate is an adaptation in the course of evolution to reduce competition between males in a coalition. In addition, due to the simultaneous heat of the females, all male packs can mate. The females in a pack also do not compete for the males, which is probably due to the selection of relatives.

The gestation period in lions is around 110 days. For the birth, the females separate from their pack and give birth to their young in a hidden place within the territory. One to six young are born per litter. The birth weight is about 1500 grams The young are born helpless and blind and wear a gray-yellow birth fur with camouflaging spots. In the first three weeks of life, the eyes then open, the cubs begin to crawl and take their first steps. When the mother goes hunting, the young are left alone and quietly wait in their hiding place. After four to eight weeks, the mother and her offspring return to the pack. The introduction of the new pack members is peaceful. The young are then raised together by the whole pack. In contrast to other cat species, the males of lions also take part in the rearing of their offspring.

In the first months of life, the young are fed with breast milk. During this time, the females split up to hunt and supervise the offspring. After a successful hunt, the young are taken to a crack after they are around three months old. While a carcass is initially just a toy, they soon begin to lick blood and eat their first bits of meat. Weaning takes place progressively between the ages of six and twelve months. Due to the social way of life, lion cubs become independent later than the offspring of other big cats and, if possible, stay with their mothers up to an age of 21 to 30 months. The survival rate to adulthood in Lions is about 25-33 percent. If the young are successfully raised, the females have a new litter every two to three years. When they can no longer hunt in old age, they are also looked after by the other pack members. Female lions have a life expectancy of around 16 years.

At around two to three years of age, young males slowly become competitors for the male packs and eventually drive them out of the birth pack. They then typically form coalitions with other relatives or males from other packs and move around as nomads. Coalition partners usually stay together for life. At the age of about four to five years, the males then try to fight for a pack in order to be able to take it over. These fights often lead to life-threatening injuries and deaths.

Being part of a pack is an arduous task for the males. They have to defend their pack frequently and spend up to a fifth of their time mating. If they lose their pack again after a while, they will live nomadically again for the rest of their lives. In old age, however, a nomadic life is not easy for males. When they are no longer cared for by a pack, they have to hunt themselves. They are then often poorly nourished and usually only survive for one to two years. In the wild, male lions can reach a maximum age of twelve years.

When a pack is taken over by new males, all pups under one year of age are killed by the new male packs. Since males can only reproduce as long as they have a pack, they make maximum use of the period. The females are ready to mate again just a few days after the infanticide. However, they only ovulate after a “trial period” of a few months. The new males first have to prove that they can keep the pack.

Their area of ​​distribution then and now

Lions were originally common throughout Africa with the exception of the Central Sahara and the rainforests, in southeastern Europe on the Balkan Peninsula, in the Middle East and in southwestern Asia. While they disappeared in Europe as early as the first century AD, they survived in North Africa, the Middle East and Asia until the 19th and partly into the first half of the 20th century. Today they only come in sub-Saharan Africa in Ethiopia, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Cameroon, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Zambia, Senegal, Zimbabwe, Somalia, Sudan, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Chad, Uganda and the Central African Republic. Furthermore, the status in the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Togo and Rwanda is uncertain. In Asia, lions are now only found in the West Indies in the Gir Forest region.

In which habitat do lions occur?

Lions are optimally adapted to life in the savannah, but are also found in scrubland, dry forests, semi-deserts and mountains up to heights of over 4000 meters. The lions' special requirements for a suitable habitat are prey animals that are available all year round as well as shady resting places and hiding places for sneaking up on prey and for their young.

Everything about their food and diet

Lions typically hunt at night. Only in areas with denser vegetation do lions occasionally hunt during the day. The more open the area, however, and the fewer opportunities there are to cover, the more hopeless it is for these big cats to hunt in daylight. Overall, however, lions hunt whenever a good opportunity presents itself.

Lions are typical stealth hunters. Since most of their prey are faster and more persistent than they are, lions actually only have a chance of success if they can approach the prey within at least 30 meters. To do this, lions sneak up or lie in wait and wait for a prey to approach. When sneaking up and hiding, lions adopt the stalking posture that is typical of cats and use every opportunity for cover. Ambushing is particularly promising at watering holes, which are usually visited in the early morning hours by various ungulates, or near shallow river sections where prey animals cross watercourses.

When attacking, lions then accelerate powerfully and reach a sprint speed of around 45-60 km / h, which they can seldom hold out for longer than a distance of around 100-200 m. When the lions can reach their victims, they grab them in full swing with their paws and pull them to the ground. Depending on the size of the prey, they typically kill their prey with a throat or neck bite.

Lions hunt individually as well as in groups. However, group hunts are usually poorly coordinated. When lions hunt together, they usually sneak up on prey from different sides and hunt simultaneously. Often it is more or less coincidental that an attacking lion drives prey to other lurking lions. Sometimes there are even multiple rifts per attack and group this way. Truly coordinated community hunts only occur under difficult living conditions such as low prey. In the semi-desert of Namibia, for example, where there are few prey and hiding places, the pride of lions have developed correct hunting strategies in order to be able to feed themselves adequately. In a pack, the females mainly hunt and procure most of the food. They are faster, more agile and, above all, less noticeable than the males, but also smaller and not as strong as these. Male lions usually hunt only when they don't have a pack and need to support themselves or when food is scarce. Other sources of food for lions include stealing prey from other predators such as hyenas, cheetahs, leopards, wild dogs or jackals, as well as scavenging.

Lions are pure carnivores and generalists at the same time. They prefer to hunt medium-sized and large ungulates weighing around 100-300 kg, such as wildebeest, zebras, waterbuck and greater kudu. Overall, the prey spectrum ranges from insects and fish to mice and birds to young rhinos and elephants.In group hunting, large prey such as buffalo or giraffes, which are many times heavier than a lion, are regularly hunted. Under difficult living conditions, lions sometimes specialize in certain species, for example in Tanzania in the area of ​​the Rufiji river on crocodiles or on the coast of Namibia on South African fur seals. In doing so, they sometimes develop special hunting tactics.

Lions have an average meat requirement of 5-10 kg per day, but they do not eat regularly. With a large meal, a hungry lion can eat up to 20 percent of its own body weight within several hours, which is roughly four to five times the average daily requirement. When lions have eaten a lot, they spend up to 20 hours a day dozing and sleeping. If there's anything left of a crack after a meal, the lions stay nearby and eat away again and again. If one extrapolates the food requirement of a lion to one year, a fully grown female lion needs over two tons of prey, which corresponds to ten zebras or 16 wildebeest.

Studies in the Serengeti in Tanzania show that on average about every third hunt is successful in group hunts. In individual hunts, it is around every sixth. However, the higher success achieved through community hunting is often more than offset by sharing the prey. Lions therefore hunt individually, in smaller or larger groups, depending on the size of the available prey. In groups, lions are better able to defend their prey against other predators and also steal more successful prey from other predators.

When lions do not find enough prey, it happens again and again that they also kill domestic and farm animals such as sheep, goats and cows. This then leads to human-wildlife conflicts. For fear of a lion attack or revenge for cunning livestock, livestock keepers sometimes kill lions that get too close to human settlements.

If there is no water to drink in, lions can meet their fluid needs by eating prey or, occasionally, parts of plants. So they can cope well even in dry regions.

Their existence in the past, present and future

Lions are the top predators in their habitat, so they are at the top of the food chain and are therefore a particularly important part of the natural food web.

In some parts of their range, lions are relatively well researched, such as in the Serengeti in Tanzania. The situation is particularly worse in Angola, the Central African Republic and South Sudan. Investigations into the population size and development of the lions are difficult and expensive due to the large territories and the sometimes very withdrawn way of life. In addition, individual recognition is not as easy with lions as with many other cats.

The total number of the population is estimated at 18,000-32,000 animals in Africa and about 523 lions in Asia. The World Conservation Union IUCN assumes that the actual number of lions in Africa is closer to 20,000 than 30,000 animals. That would have reduced the number of lions in Africa by about 43 percent over the past two decades. In Africa, the lions have lost about 78 percent of their original range to date. Research by Jason Riggio's researchers from 2013 shows that most lions, almost 20,000 animals, should live in East Africa, followed by around 12,000 lions in southern Africa, around 2,500 lions in Central Africa and 480 lions in West Africa. In Asia there are also 523 lions in the West Indies. The five distribution countries with the most lions are currently Tanzania, South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Kenya.

Studies in Africa on the situation of lions have shown that around half of all lions are still doing relatively well. They live in eleven large populations in different protected areas. The regions Selous and Ruaha-Ruangwa in Tanzania, Mara-Serengeti in Tanzania and Kenya, Okavango-Hwange in southern Africa and Greater Limpopo in the country triangle of South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe are the most important lion areas in Africa, where both the habitat is still relatively intact , Areas with protection status exist and the population sizes are relatively good. Tanzania is the lion country number one, because three of the world's five largest populations with more than 2,200 sexually mature lions each and around half of all lions in all of Africa and Asia live there. On the other hand, it looks critical with the other half of the lions in Africa, which occur in small, isolated populations and often outside of protected areas.

The development of the lion population is different in the different distribution areas. In a study from 2015, the researchers led by Hans Bauer showed that lion populations have declined in all African countries - except in Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa, where the protected areas are well protected. It looks particularly critical in the West African countries, where stocks have already collapsed massively. The number of lions there has decreased by 80 percent in the last 20 years. In addition, its range has shrunk to a hundredth of its original size.

Are lions critically endangered?

Your endangerment and protection status

In the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature IUCN, lions are listed as endangered. The lions in South Africa are not considered endangered and those in West Africa are considered to be critically endangered. The Asiatic lions are listed in Appendix I of the Washington Convention for the Conservation of Species. Any international commercial trade is therefore prohibited. The African lions are listed in Appendix II. Commercial trade is thus possible after a safety assessment of the exporting country.

Trophy hunting is allowed in the following countries: Ethiopia, Benin, Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda and the Central African Republic. A special type of trophy hunting is so-called canned hunting, which is particularly widespread in South Africa. Captive-bred lions are hunted in fenced enclosures. This "gate hunt" is sharply criticized by animal welfare and is also a problem for species protection, because animals are repeatedly caught from the wild for breeding. Several attempts to ban canned hunting in South Africa have so far failed.

Today the survival of lions is endangered by numerous threats, including the trade in lion bones to replace tiger bones for use in traditional Asian medicine, killings as a result of human-wildlife conflicts, habitat loss, shortage of prey, chance victims of bushmeat poaching, diseases and unsustainable trophy hunting.

Since there are currently only a few wild tigers in Asia and the efforts to control trade with their body parts are showing success, the demand for body parts from other cat species for use in traditional Asian medicine is increasing significantly. Lion bones have become a popular alternative for tiger bones. The international illegal trade in lion parts has so far been little investigated and is not under control at all.

Another major problem for the lions is the loss of habitat and changes in habitat associated with population growth. Especially in the last thirty years the population in large parts of the distribution area of ​​the lions has increased strongly. In this context, human-wildlife conflicts occur again and again and with increasing frequency. The lack of prey also increases the fact that lions regularly kill livestock. When they meet, they can even be dangerous to humans. Numerous preventive and revenge killings are the result. Outside of protected areas, the lion populations are increasingly displaced, smaller and more isolated. In the long term, this can lead to genetic impoverishment, inbreeding effects and an associated greater susceptibility to hereditary diseases.

In many places, often deep within the protected areas, the lions suffer from the poaching of bush meat. They get caught in the snares and traps that are actually designed for large ungulates. Some intact habitats have meanwhile been poached more or less empty, so that lions find it difficult to find prey and, moreover, are often victims of poaching themselves. In East Africa, the prey populations have already decreased by half, in West Africa by as much as 85 percent.

Occasionally, there are severe local population drops in lions due to diseases that are often transmitted by pets. In 1994, for example, over a thousand lions died of the distemper virus in the Serengeti, Tanzania, within six months.

Lions are among the most sought-after hunting trophies in Africa. The trophy hunt is supposed to bring in money according to the motto “Protect by Benefit”, with which the communities that live in the lion's range can be supported and which should benefit nature conservation. Unfortunately, the reality is mostly different. Often times, the money doesn't get where it's supposed to and the hunt is not sustainable. Trophy hunters typically prefer full-grown, sturdy males. But if these have a pack, the pack is taken over by new males and infanticide of the young animals. The shooting of such a male then results in the death of several lions. For this reason, in some countries only males of a certain age are released for trophy hunting. On the other hand, there are also positive examples such as in the north-west of Namibia, where trophy hunting has led to a tolerated coexistence of humans and lions - and the local lion population is currently growing steadily.

WWF projects to protect the lions

The WWF is committed to preserving the lions in their natural habitat. To this end, he supports many national parks and other protected areas financially, personally, with equipment and by providing his many years of expertise in species and nature conservation. The WWF and TRAFFIC are also committed to sustainable trade in wild species and are working to combat illegal trade.