August 10th is World Lion Day so we’ve collated a list of some of our favourite lion facts to celebrate – and we are all planning on watching the Lion King when we get home too!
1) Lions and the British Monarchy
Lions have long been a symbol of of the British Monarchy; some of the earliest signs of the royal’s relationship with the king of the jungle were discovered in 1937 when two skulls of the now extinct Barbary lion were found in the Tower of London. The skulls date back the 13th century, and are evidence of the Royal Menagerie established at the tower by King John in the 1200s. Long before zoos, the Royal Menagerie displayed extraordinary animals from across the empire, until its closure in 1835. The Barbary lion was found across North Africa until its extinction in 1922, and was believed to be a monogamous species. One of the skulls discovered in 1937 is now on display in London’s Natural History Museum.
2) Males can be maneless
The mane is a sign of distinction for any self-respecting male lion, however not all males have one. In Kenya’s Tsavo National Park males lack manes, which has mystified scientists for many years. The main functions of the mane are thought to be physical protection for the head and neck areas, sexual gravitas, or intimidation to other males (darker manes indicate higher levels of testosterone). Lions in the Tsavo National Park are exposed to extreme heat and aridity, and it is thought that having a large mane may cause males to overheat.
3) Females have hunting positions
Female lions hunt cooperatively and individuals have a preferred position within the hunting formation that is dependent on their body shape and size, similar to a rugby team. Research by scientists in Etosha National Park showed that there are two ‘positions’ in a hunting formation: wings and centres. Centres were involved in ambush attacks and tend to be of a stockier build, while wingers stalk animals and initiate hunts. These positions may be a crucial behavioural adaptation to maximising efficient prey capture in an arid desert environment.
4) Lions don’t always live in prides
While the traditional view of lions is that they live in prides, this is actually far from the norm and more than half of the population don’t live in prides at all. Females that live in prides don’t necessarily have higher hunting success and studies have shown that in times of low food availability being a solitary female is actually the best option to increase their chance of survival.
5) Safety in numbers
Despite living in prides possibly not being the best option food-wise, this way of living keeps lionesses and their young safe from roaming males. Plus, it gives them all some friends to hang out with!
Show your love for lions today by sharing your newfound knowledge with others and finding out more about the amazing work that conservation organisations are doing to help save this rapidly declining species.
- National Geographic Big Cats Initiative
- Lion Guardians
- Ruaha Carnivore Project
- Panthera – Project Leonardo
- Ewaso Lions
Ted Savile, Arkive Guest Blogger