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African Lion Notecard



African Lion (Panthera leo)

The male African lion, with his wrinkled brow, voluptuous mane, and soft but lethal forepaws, cuts a grand and important figure in landscape, myth, art, and literature. Lions once roamed Europe, the Middle East, and India. Today wild lions are confined to Africa and a small, isolated population in India’s Gir Forest. Males may weigh more than 500 pounds and stand four feet tall at the shoulder. Over a short stretch, one can run 60 m.p.h. Lionesses are smaller and lack the extravagant hairstyles of their mates. Mothers give birth to litters of two to four. Lions live in groups called prides.

A mighty predator, the lion has earned the nickname “King of Beasts”. Bounding out from a hiding place in tall grass or shrubs, a lion can bring down such big game as giraffes, zebras, antelope and African buffalo. Females and young males do most of the hunting, perhaps because the male’s grand mane makes him easily spotted by prey animals. But the hairdo has its advantages. The mane, which creates an impression of great size, likely helps a male to intimidate rivals in territorial battles and provides a shield to soften the impact of teeth and claws.

Today, lions are threatened by habitat destruction and poaching. Yet through much of sub-Saharan Africa, they still roam, roaring and hunting by night and sleeping by day, reigning as the continent’s most powerful cat.

artwork by Linda Matusich © 2002

text by Edward Kanze