Because of its strength, majesty and fierceness, the lion is called the King of
the Beasts. It and the tiger are the largest members of the cat family. A
full-grown male lion, standing just over a meter high and weighing about 225
kilograms, may be more than 3 meters long from his nose to the tip of his tail.
Today the lion is generally thought of as an African animal, and lions are
certainly much commoner in Africa than anywhere else, but there are also a few
in the west of India. Once they lived in Europe and the East as well, but they
have now become extinct in these areas due to irresponsible human activities.
The lion can be told apart immediately from the lioness because of the
enormous, heavy mane of hair that covers its powerful head and shoulders. The
coloring of lions may be golden or reddish brown, nearly black or almost silver
grey. The mane is nearly always darker than the rest of the coat, and the
underpart of the body is lighter than the back. Lionesses are smaller and
lighter in color than male lions.
Like other cats, lions have soft-padded feet. In the tuft of hair at the tip
of their long tails is a single spur, or claw-like object, but no one knows its
use or the reason for its existence. Sandy or rocky plains or open grasslands
with scattered trees are the haunts of lions, and their coats blend very well
with the background of sun-scorched land. Often they live in huge families which
are sometimes known as prides. The deep=throated, thunderous roar of the lion is
one of the most terrifying sounds in nature.
Lions generally hunt at night, spending the day sleeping or lying up in cover
or in the shade of rocks and trees. The lion hunts by lying in wait for its prey
beside a water hole or by stalking it patiently across the open plain. The kill
is made quickly, the lion pulling down its victim in a lightning-fast rush and
killing it with a blow of its paw. A full-grown male lion can drag an animal as
large as a horse in its jaws. Lions often hunt in groups and it is said that
some lions will lie in ambush while others drive prey towards them.
Although they are dangerous animals to disturb, ions do not often attack
human beings. Sometimes, however, an old lion that is getting too slow to catch
the swift wild creatures will turn his attention to men, and sometimes a younger
lion becomes a regular man-eater, often by accident. Lions will often attack
cattle and other domestic animals, breaking into enclosures and carrying off
Young lions are generally born three at a time, but sometimes there are only
two and occasionally as many as six. Both the male and female may help to look
after the young, and the lioness is a devoted mother. The cubs have spots when
they are born. Some scientists think that this is because lions may once have
been forest animals and had markings to camouflage themselves. Lions have no
natural enemies, but have been hunted by man, who both feared and respected the
lion's strength. Lions are today protected in game parks and reserves in Africa