Lions—Africa’s Majestic Maned Cats
BY “AWAKE!” CORRESPONDENT IN KENYA
IT IS sunrise on the Serengeti Plain of Africa. In the cool morning air, we sit in our Land Rover and watch a pride of lionesses with their cubs. Their tawny coats are sleek and golden, blending beautifully with the long, dry grass. The young cubs are boisterous and full of energy. They spring and play around the large bodies of the females, who seem to take little notice of their clownish antics.
Suddenly the pride freeze. All eyes turn, staring into the distance. From our elevated viewpoint, we follow the line of their gaze and discover the object of their attention. The dawn light reveals the magnificent form of a huge male lion. Our eyes meet his as he stares at us. We feel our bodies shiver, not from the morning chill, but from the realization that we are the object of his glare. He is fearsome, yet beautiful, in appearance. A great golden mane streaked with black frames his massive head. His large eyes are amber in color and alert. However, his family draws his attention, and slowly he turns his gaze to them and moves in their direction.
His stride is stately, even regal. Without giving us a second glance, he passes directly in front of our vehicle and approaches the females and their cubs. They all rise to meet him and one by one press their faces against his rugged muzzle in a typical feline cheek-rub greeting. Moving into the midst of the pride, the male flops down as if exhausted by his stroll and rolls onto his back. His lethargy is contagious, and soon the whole pride sleep lightly in the first rays of the warm morning sun. We see before us a picture of peace and contentment framed within the golden, windblown grasses of the open plain.
A Creature of Intrigue and Fascination
Perhaps no animal has excited the imagination of man more than the lion. Long ago, African artists adorned rock faces with painted images of lions hunting their prey. Ancient palaces and temples were ornamented with huge stone statues of full-maned lions. Today, people flock to zoos to see these fascinating cats. The lion has been lionized in books and films, such as Born Free, a true account of an orphaned lion cub raised in captivity and finally set free. And the lion has been villainized in stories—part fable, part fact—as a malicious man-eater. No wonder the lion remains a creature of intrigue and fascination!
Lions can be extremely fierce and, occasionally, as gentle and playful as kittens. They purr quietly when contented yet can utter a mighty roar that is audible for five miles [8 km]. At times they seem to be lazy and lethargic, but they have the ability to move with surprising speed. Man has immortalized the lion for its courage, and a brave person is said to be lionhearted.
Simba*—A Sociable Cat
Lions are among the most social of all the cats. They thrive in large family units called prides, which can number from just a few members to over 30. The pride consists of a group of lionesses who may be closely related. They live, hunt, and give birth together. This close bond, which may last a lifetime, provides the foundation of the lion family unit and ensures its survival.
Each pride has one or more fully grown male lions patrolling and scent-marking the pride’s territory. From the tip of their black noses to the end of their tufted tails, these magnificent beasts can measure over ten feet [3 m] in length, and they can weigh more than 500 pounds [225 kg]. Although the males dominate the pride, it is the females that exercise leadership. The lionesses are the ones that usually initiate activity, such as moving to a shaded area or starting a hunt.
Lionesses normally give birth every two years. Young lions are born totally helpless. Rearing cubs is a community project, and all the females will protect and nurse the young within the pride. Cubs grow fast; by two months of age, they are running and playing. Tumbling among themselves like kittens, they wrestle, pounce on their playmates, and jump about in the tall grass. They are fascinated by anything that moves and will leap at butterflies, chase insects, and wrestle with sticks and vines. Most irresistible is the movement of their mother’s tail, which she deliberately flicks about, inviting them to play.
Each pride lives within a well-defined territory that can extend over many square miles. Lions favor elevated areas where there is plenty of water as well as shade from the intense midday sun. There they live among the elephants, giraffes, buffalo, and other animals of the plain. The life of a lion is divided between long hours of sleeping and short periods of hunting and mating. The fact is, lions can be found resting, sleeping, or sitting an incredible 20 hours a day. Sound asleep, they look peaceful and tame. However, do not be deceived—the lion is one of the fiercest of all the wild creatures!
In the late afternoon, the sunbaked grasslands begin to cool. The three lionesses of the pride that we are watching begin to stir from their midday siesta. Driven by hunger, the cats start to move about, sniffing the air as they look out across the yellowing grasslands. It is the height of the wildebeest migration, and tens of thousands of these ungainly antelope graze peacefully to the south of us. The three cats now move in that direction. Fanning out on a wide front, they stealthily glide through the rough terrain. The tawny cats are almost invisible in the long grass and are able to come within 100 feet [30 m] of the unsuspecting herd. It is then that the cats decide to make their move. With an explosive burst of speed, they race into the mass of startled wildebeests. The herd stampede in all directions, the wild-eyed creatures racing for their lives. Hundreds of pounding hooves pulverize the earth, kicking up a cloud of red dust. As the dust blows away, we see the three lionesses standing alone, panting heavily. Their prey has eluded them. Perhaps another opportunity to hunt will come tonight, perhaps not. As agile and quick as they are, lions are only successful 30 percent of the time when hunting. Starvation is thus one of the greatest threats that lions face.
The strength of a full-grown lion is remarkable. Hunting in prides, they have been known to pull down and kill animals weighing over 3,000 pounds. [1,300 kg] In the initial chase, lions can reach speeds of up to 36 miles [59 km] an hour, but they cannot sustain that speed for long. Because of this, they employ stalk-and-ambush techniques to obtain their meals. Lionesses do 90 percent of the hunting, but it is the larger males that usually get the lion’s share when the meal starts. When game is scarce, lions are sometimes so hungry that they will drive their own cubs from the kill.
Long ago the majestic lion roamed the entire African continent and some parts of Asia, Europe, India, and Palestine. Being a hunter, it lives in competition with man. Threatening livestock and harming people, the lion became a creature to be shot on sight. Exploding human populations have greatly reduced the lion’s habitat. Outside Africa, there are only a few hundred lions surviving in the wild today. Now lions are safe from man only within the bounds of protected areas and wildlife parks.
Happily, there are changes in store for this magnificent beast. The Bible describes a future time when the lion will live at peace with humans. (Isaiah 11:6-9) Our loving Creator will soon make this a reality. At that time Africa’s majestic maned cat will live in harmony and peace with the rest of creation.
Simba is Swahili for “lion.”
[Box on page 19]
When the Lion ROARS
LIONS are known for their unique vocal ability to boom out a loud roar that can be heard for miles. The roar of the lion has been regarded as one of “the most impressive natural sounds.” Lions usually roar during the hours of darkness and at dawn. Both male and female lions engage in roaring, and sometimes a whole pride will lift up their voices together in a community roar.
Scientists who study lions suggest that roaring accomplishes several things. Male lions will roar to advertise their territorial boundaries and, as an expression of aggression, to warn other male lions who may enter their territory. Fittingly, the Bible referred to the aggressive, proud, and greedy Assyrian and Babylonian rulers as roaring “maned young lions” that violently opposed and devoured God’s people.—Isaiah 5:29; Jeremiah 50:17.
Roaring allows pride members to locate one another when separated by distance or darkness. After a kill, this vocalization alerts the other pride members to the location of the waiting meal. Referring to this characteristic, the Bible observes: “Will a young maned lion give forth its voice from its hiding place if it has caught nothing at all?”—Amos 3:4.
Surprisingly, when hunting wild animals, lions do not use roaring as a hunting strategy to scare their prey. In his book The Behavior Guide to African Mammals, Richard Estes observes that there is “no indication that lions deliberately roar to drive prey into an ambush (in my experience prey species normally ignore lion roars).”
Why, then, does the Bible refer to Satan as a ‘roaring lion that seeks to devour someone’? (1 Peter 5:8) Although wild animals do not seem to be intimidated by the lion’s roar, this is not the case with man and his domestic flocks. The terrifying sound of the lion’s roar, resonating in the darkness of the night, would frighten and intimidate anyone not protected behind a closed door. Long ago it was accurately observed: “There is a lion that has roared! Who will not be afraid?”—Amos 3:8.
Satan is skillful in the use of fear to intimidate people into submission. Thankfully, God’s people have a powerful ally. With strong faith in Jehovah’s backing, they can successfully resist this powerful “roaring lion.” Christians are encouraged to ‘take their stand against him, solid in the faith.’—1 Peter 5:9.