The biggest of the African cats, lions are often one of the most sought-after sightings on a Kruger safari.
These fearsome, family-orientated felines can be seen in many different areas in Kruger Park, and have a powerful presence and piercing roar that only further illustrates why they are such a dominant force and a must-see on Big 5 game drives.
Lions live and move in groups called prides. The size of a pride can range from anything between 10 and 15, to possibly even 25 individuals.
The most distinct feature of a male and what distinguishes its look from that of a female, is its mane. This mane can be simple and short or can grow into full-bodied, shaggy locks of hair that frame the face of the lion.
Males have a greater body mass than females and can weight between 150 - 225kg. Females, on the other hand, usually weigh between 110 - 150kg.
A lion’s footprint, much like its face, is iconic, with four claws on the back feet and five on the front paws (the fifth claw is a little further back and doesn’t show in its paw prints).
Females, known as lionesses, do most of the hunting in a pride. However, when it comes to enjoying the spoils of the hunt, it’s the males that eat first, then the females and then the cubs (young lions). The main job of the males is to protect the pride and its territory.
Lions are adaptable and can be found in a number of different types of habitats, including open grassland and thick bush areas. They tend to hunt during the cooler part of the day, which is generally between dusk and dawn. And during the day? They hide away from the hot sun and enjoy plenty of sleep.
These fierce and strong animals tend to hunt and prey on anything from buffalo, hippos and zebra, to wildebeest, several kinds of antelopes, like impala and even giraffe. However, this depends on the circumstances (ie. if the animal is older, sick or slower than the others of its herd) and the most opportune moment.
While lions are successful hunters in their own right, there are times when they have been known to steal the kill of other predators like wild dogs and cheetah.
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There isn’t a specific mating season for lions and they will often mate throughout the year. While it does vary, a female can mate with a male a few times a year, and during this time, the pair mates every 20 - 30 minutes for several days, to ensure fertilisation in the female.
The gestation period for lions is 3 to 4 months and a female can give birth to between 2 and 6 cubs, however not all the cubs will survive for reasons ranging from competing with the other cubs for food to being killed off by other animals or a new dominant male, should the old male be defeated and ousted from the pride.
In a pride, lionesses tend to assist in taking care of all the young, whether its their own or not as cubs are born blind and incredibly vulnerable in the beginning. As with most young mammals, cubs are completely dependant on their mothers for the first few months, and will only begin hunting when they are about one-year-old.
While it’s not a given, female lions will often stay with their pride from birth, later mating with the males of the pride, whereas, male lions are sometimes forced to leave and form coalitions with other male lions that have been kicked out by the dominant male of their pride, as well.
As with all sightings, but especially those of cats like lions and leopards, it’s crucial that you keep your arms as well as any other part of your body inside your vehicle. Trust us when we say that you’ll only truly understand the size and intimidating stature of these magnificent animals when you see them up-close.
Be sure to keep your distance and not to crowd around the lion or lioness when stopping at a sighting or taking photographs. Always remember your game drive etiquette - should there be a few cars at a sighting, it’s best to enjoy and experience the sighting, and then move aside so that other visitors to the park can enjoy it too.
It’s important to be very quiet around lion sightings, especially if you happen to come upon them hunting.
It’s also quite common to come across lions sleeping during the day and while visitors to the Kruger National Park are often tempted to make a little noise, in order to wake them up, this is definitely not advisable. Rather use this opportunity to sit and admire these beautiful creatures as they get their much-needed rest.
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