Kiara's Education Page

Kiara's Sahifa invites you to learn more about real life lions. Presented below are five paragraphs of educational material on African lions. After reading them you may then begin a five question quiz. Each question has three possible answers. If you guess correctly then you are automatically taken to the next question. If you guess incorrectly, you can then choose from the remaining two answers. If you guess incorrectly a second time you are then taken back to the original question. Everyone will finish the quiz, but those who remember the material better will finish quicker.


Panthera leo

Of all the Felidae, the lion is the only animal that relies extensively on group cooperation. It is best therefore to describe lion behavior through it's life stages in the pride.

Lion cubs are born in isolation from the pride. There are usually two to five cubs in a litter, and each weighs about 5 pounds at birth. Their eyes are open, but they cannot see well and are completely dependent on their mothers. After a few weeks, the cubs are introduced to the pride. Here they will spend about a year learning skills and strengthening social bonds through play. Cubs are generally tolerated by the whole pride. In fact, they are cared for by all females rather then just their own mothers. This is possible since the females in the pride usually give birth at the same time, and so all are lactating and able to suckle cubs. This is also helped by the close social and genetic relationship of the mothers.

Lionesses tend to stay in the pride they are born in. This makes the group a collection of sisters, aunts, cousins, mothers and grandmothers who have grown together. Although lions do not have the same concepts of 'kin' and genetic relations as humans do, it may not be too presumptuous to assume these animals have the same sense of family devotion. Perhaps they feel some sense of commitment to the group they have grown, played, hunted, and faced hardship with. Whatever the case, this communal raising of cubs has definite benefits. A cub that loses it's mother is not necessarily destined to die itself as there is an entire support group ready to care for it. If not for this communal life, these cubs would surely die within days.

Although the bonds in the pride are strong, there is still the existence of cubs killed by adults. This takes place if a new male takes over a pride with young cubs. His first task as the new prime male of the pride is to kill all the existing cubs of the former male. This seems cruel, but does have advantages for the new male in terms of his lineage. A male does not hold a pride for long, and it is when he holds one that he is able to mate and pass on his genes. If he waits to raise the former leader's cubs, he is losing out in genetic terms since he is likely to lose his pride before they are weaned and their mothers go into estrus again. When he kills the current cubs, the lionesses will again have a period of estrus and the new male will be able to contribute his own genes to the gene pool before he is driven out. As for the lionesses, their genetic contribution is secure either way. No matter which male is the father, they are always the mother. In fact, the lioness may have gotten better genes from the new male and perhaps a greater chance for her cubs to survive and reproduce. After they are about a year old the cubs begin to join the pride in hunts. Their hunting skills become more serious, and their play more rough. It is during this period that they begin to fine tune their skills for adult life. Within another year, they will begin the next phase in their lives.

At about two years of age, the cubs are no longer tolerated by the pride. Their mothers are usually ready for their next litter of cubs, and they are often driven out to become nomads. This usually happens to young males, but it may also happen to females. If the pride is too large and has difficulty supporting itself, young females will also be driven to become nomads. This driving out of young cubs has some importance in the survival of the pride. For females, it keeps the pride at a size that requires less to support. For males, there are two other advantages for the pride. First, there is less competition for the prime male over mating in the pride. Second, it helps avoid inbreeding. By leaving the pride, the young males will move to mate with other lionesses rather than those related to them. Nomadic life usually consists of a period of scavenging and wandering over a large area until the young lion is ready to join another pride. For females, this means inclusion. They may be included in a new pride once they have come into estrus and are mated by another male. For males, it means conquering.

Young males usually travel in small groups. This may help in taking over a pride, if the young males can outnumber the current male or males holding it. Usually they spend their early years as nomads scavenging and avoiding challenges. After a few more years, the young males will begin to challenge those holding territory. They approach the dominant males with threats, and scent mark the territory they intend to take. The pride is then often taken with a fight, but there are also times when the older male 'denounces his throne' and simply abandons the pride to the new males. The new territory holders now begin to establish their own lineage. The average time for a male or group of males to hold a pride is about three years, before they too are driven out.

Fast Facts

Provided by Sea World/Busch Gardens
Animal Information Database

Common Name: lion

Class: Mammalia

Order: Carnivora

Family: Felidae

Genus species: Panthera (panther, leopard) leo (lion)

Size: male 1.7 to 2.5 m (5.5-8 ft.), and 1.2 m (4 feet) at the shoulder: female 1.4 to 1.7 m (4.5-5.5 ft.), and 1.06 m (3.5 feet) at the shoulder

Weight: males 150 to 250 kg (330-550 lb.), females 120 to 180 kg (265-395 lb.)

Description: short-haired, tawny cat; black tail tuft, ears, and lips; males with blond to black manes; newborns with grayish spots which fade to adult color by three months

Life span: up to 30 years in captivity, 15 years average

Sexual maturity: males at 5 years, females at 4 years

Gestation: 98 to 105 days; on average 2 to 4 cubs born

Habitat: sub-Saharan Africa in grasslands and semi-arid plains

Diet: antelopes, gazelles, warthogs, smaller carnivores, and occasionally Cape buffalo, giraffe, and young elephants

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