L is for Lion.

Lions are the kings are the food chain. They prowl over half of all the African continent and are synonymous with safaris, ferociousness and dominance.  They are extremely successful and have been around for over 700,000 years and have maintained themselves as one of the top hunters in the world. At the head of a tribe lions is the alpha male. The alpha male usually patrols an area of open Savannah and is the sole male in the area (minus the children). The male lion usually patrols the area and safeguards it against any predators who would look to take their young. They also protect the area from other male lions who may wish to encroach into an area he is not allowed.

Inside his area, the male lion is dominant. He mates with all the females and is the sole father of the tribe. If another male comes in and overthrows the leader, he then assumes the responsibility of the head of the tribe. In order to maximize his fitness, the male lion will kill any newborn offspring left over from the previous males’ reign as this will allow the females to once again be ready to mate.  Whilst the males are the head of the group, they do not hunt. The role of hunting in a tribe is left to the females who will go out and bring back the food for the male lion to eat. Any leftover food is then given to the pups and the females. The male gets as much food as he likes and as much females as he can handle… Besides the constant fighting, it might be okay being a lion!

Lions are poly-estrous. This means that they don’t have a defined mating period and that they can breed quite regularly. The male is like all male cats in that it he has a barbed penis.  This makes a useful tool in allowing the lion to initiate ovulation by scraping against the female as he exits. This is an image I don’t want to imagine too much! During a mating bout, lion couples may have sex up to 40 times a days; often going without food! A normal gestation period for a lion is around 110 days and may have a litter of between 1 and 4 offspring.

The lion has no natural predators. Most of its death are attributable to other lions or humans. Lions, when defending their patch from another lion, will often inflict serious wounds to one another. This may seem counter-intuitive to fight to the death; but with the rewards being almost infinite mating and a steady source of food, it isn’t hard to see why they would do it.  Lions have been known to attack and eat humans; although such instances are out of character and fairly uncommon. Many do so in defense of their territory or when they feel threatened or alarmed. Interestingly, there seems to be a link between the amount of moon light the lion received and the aggressiveness they display towards humans. The ‘optimum’ time for lion aggressiveness appears to be two weeks after a full moon!

Lions have been depicted countless times in our culture. The Lion King is the single greatest grossing hand-drawn film of all time. It has a number of sequels and has been adapted for the stage and theater. The Lion king was actually seen by many as the ‘B’ Disney film at the time of production. The Lion King was being put together around the same time as Pocahontas and many of the top animators wanted to work on the latter because they thought it would be a bigger success! Lions are also found in the Wizard of Oz and the Chronicles of Narnia. They are often shown as brave, strong and ferocious animals  that have a strong family pride. Lions truly are one of the most extraordinary animals on Earth!

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