Lions are the kings of Melbourne Zoo. Lions once ranged throughout northern Africa, south-west Asia, Europe and India. Their range is now reduced to sub Saharan Africa, with an isolated sub species in the Gir Forest of India. Numbers are decreasing, as they are killed by farmers to protect livestock and as the number of potential prey dwindles. It is not known how many lions remain in the wild in Africa: recent estimates have ranged from around 16,500 to 30,000 animals remaining. Lions are now classed as ‘vulnerable’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (on the IUCN ‘red list’).
Meeting the lions at Melbourne Zoo is a chance to come face-to-face with these majestic animals and help secure the survival of threatened species. A visit to Melbourne Zoo helps to raise much needed funds, contributing to the care and upkeep of animals like the lion. Visiting the zoo also supports Zoos Victoria in Fighting Extinction, both here and abroad.
An adult male lion stands just over a metre tall at the shoulder, is over 3 metres long including tail, and averages about 220kg in weight. Females are considerably smaller. Cubs are spotted, and sometimes a few spots remain into adulthood on the legs and belly. Adult male lions are noted for their brown mane, which becomes darker and fuller as the animal matures and becomes stronger. The mane is apparently a sign of his strength and virility, as weaker males do not have such luxuriant manes.
Lions are the only cats to live in a large family group, called a pride. A pride can be as large as 30–40 members and comprises mostly related females, their cubs and a small number of resident males. Dominating the pride is either a single male, or a coalition of males. Competition among males to take over a pride is intense, and on average the duration of a lion’s rule is 2–3 years.
Lions are carnivorous and hunt a variety of prey including zebra, wildebeest, impala, buffalo and warthog. The pride hunts as a team, using ambush methods. It is more generally the females who hunt to feed the pride.