Knowsley Safari Academy, Lions, 2.8.16

There are 2 subspecies of lion: the African and the Asiatic. The IUCN classification is vulnerable.

Life span= 12 years. Habitat= mainly savannah and grasslands. Weight range= 190-300kg.


Anatomy

  1. Mane: Designed to make the male seem larger to scale rivals. The dark colour indicates high testosterone level which indicates sexual maturity.
  2. Nose/eyes: Good eyesight at low vision which helps in hunting. Advanced sense of smell.
  3. Tongue: Covered in rough spines for getting meat off the bone, and for grooming.
  4. Stomach: Short and simple digestive system and acidic.
  5. Tail: Only members of the cat family with a tassel. Used for balance and communication.
  6. Feet: Digitigrades walkers. They walk on their toes so have large pads. The large pads on their feet keep their movement quiet. They have retractable claws.


Social structure

A pride is generally comprised of 6 related females, their cubs of both sexes and one male.

The lionesses’ job within the pride is to hunt as they are smaller and more agile. The males’ manes can cause them to overheat when hunting so their role is to defend the pride.

Diet and hunting

Key prey species: zebra, wildebeest, buffalo and warthogs

A male needs 7kg of food per day, a female needs 5kg of food per day.

Their main competitor for food is the spotted hyena as they have a dietary overlap of 60%.

To avoid clashes with the lions, cheetahs hunt at different times of the day whilst leopards make use of their ability to climb trees.


Reproduction

Females breed at 4 years old, males breed at 5 years old. Gestation lasts for 122 days with 1-4 cubs being born. Weaning occurs at 6 months but 80% of cubs die before the age of 2.

Lions in captivity are more likely to have a vitamin A deficiency. One of the lionesses as a result has brain damage where there has been pressure on motor areas of her brain. Treatment is vitamin powder but this will not cure it.

In addition to the deficiency, lions get cuts and scrapes from other lions. Although these will naturally heal, keepers will monitor them to prevent infection. If necessary, they will be given oral antibiotics.

When a lion needs to be sedated, they will be lead into the lion house in a pair to prevent panicking and stress. There will be a vet and fire arms team on stand by in case of an emergency. Once the anesthetic is administered, the keeper or vet will touch the pad of the paw as this is a sensitive area, to check the lion is unconscious. A vet student will often monitor the heart rate and breathing.

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