Once ranging across the African continent, Syria, Israel, Iraq, Pakistan, Iran, and even northwest India, lions have declined from about 450,000 just 50 years ago to as few as 20,000. They now inhabit the grasslands, bushes and open woodlands of sub-Saharan Africa. A small population also lives in India’s Gir Forest.
The name for a baby lion is a cub, whelp or lionet. Lionesses give birth to 2 to 3 cubs at a time. Generally, a few females give birth around the same time. The cubs are then raised together as a pride. All lactating females in a pride nurse each other’s cubs, showing no favoritism for their own offspring. This is because each lioness is enhancing her own genes’ success by helping to raise her sisters’ offspring. African male lions generally play no paternal role when it comes to raising the cubs – in a nutshell they get the females knocked up, leave the females to raise the young and hunt for food for the whole pride while they sleep 16-20 hours a day, spending the rest of the time patrolling his territory and going home for meals the lionesses have caught for him. (If the lion was human we would have called him an a**hole, but that’s how the animal world works. It’s all about survival and ensuring your own lineage. Without the male lion’s protection, the whole pride may be eaten up by other predators)
Vulnerable to predators like hyenas, leopards, black-backed jackals, and prone to being trampled by large animals like buffaloes, lion cubs have a 60-70% mortality rate. They are also susceptible to being killed by other adult male lions who will kill all cubs not sired by them so they can have their own with the lionesses when they take over a pride. For this reason, cubs remain hidden for one to two months before being introduced to the rest of the pride. In the wild, lions live for an average of 12 years and up to 16 years. They live up to 25 years in captivity.
Lionesses stay within the pride all their lives but male lions either leave of their own accord or are driven off by the pride males at two to three years of age (we call that the “awkward teenage period”). Usually there is only one male lion per pride, or a few male lions from the same offspring may form a coalition to have a pride. This makes the pride stronger and less susceptible for takeover by other male lions.
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