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Visiting the lions at Werribee Open Range Zoo provides a rare opportunity to see these majestic animals up close. See why the lion is known as the ‘king of the savannah’ and learn about what threatens these magnificent creatures in the wild.
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 rapidly decreasing due to many factors including habitat destruction, which leads to a loss of prey and also puts lions in close contact with humans. One of the biggest threats to the lion population is retribution killing from farmers trying to protect their livestock. Sadly a number of countries permit trophy hunting of lions, a practice that is justified as enabling conservation. Lions are also vulnerable to disease.
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. As of 2008 Lions have been classed as ‘vulnerable’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (on the IUCN ‘red list’).
An adult male lion stands just over a metre tall at the shoulder, is over three metres long (including his tail) and on average weighs about 220kg. Females are considerably smaller. Cubs have spotted fur, 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.
Lions are the only cats to live in a family group, which is called a pride which can have up to 30–40 members. The pride is usually dominated by a single male or a coalition and mostly related females and their cubs. On average, the length of time in control of a pride is 2–3 years and competition among males to take over a pride can be ferocious!
Lions are carnivorous and hunt a variety of prey including zebra, wildebeest, impala, buffalo and warthog. The females of the pride hunt as a team using an ambush method.
- Males eat first even though they generally do not participate in the hunt. Females eat next, followed by the cubs
- Only one in five lion cubs survives its first year. When food is scarce, feeding is in order of age and size, and the youngest and weakest do not survive
- A lion’s roar can be heard up to 8km away! Up close, the grass flattens in the impact of a roar
- A subspecies of lion, the Asiatic Lion, was once found all through India, the Middle East and Southern Asia, but now fewer than 300 survive in the Gir Forest National Park in western India