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Are white lions a unique species? And more interesting facts about lions

Updated: Dec 18, 2023

Let’s dive deep into facts about lions, from pride dynamics to hunting practices. This blog was written by Chulu Msofe, a Bushwise student. All facts shared in this blog are based on Chulu’s independent research.

5 min read

As field guide students, part of our training is understanding animal behaviour and habitats, which helps us know when and where to find specific animals. I am particularly interested in lions, so I thought I’d share some facts about lions and why they’re one of the most popular and intriguing species. 

Lions are part of the Big Five

A game viewer with Bushwise students in the background, and a pride of lions resting in the foreground. The trainer tells students facts about lions.

Tourists are always excited to see lions when they come to a safari in Africa – especially because they’re one of the Big Five. Lions were included on this list because they’re considered one of the most dangerous animals to hunt. 

How do lions hunt?

Lions are carnivorous as they feed on herbivores – such as zebra and wildebeest – which provide them with the energy they need to survive. To catch their prey, lionesses work together and this teamwork increases their chances of success. They focus on prey that is sick or injured, or quite young and old because they know these will be easy to catch. This also helps to remove weak genes from nature, which allows only the strongest genes to survive. 

A lioness takes a break from her meal. Interesting facts about lions include their hunting abilities.

After finding their target, things get serious. They tend to shorten their distance to their prey by stalking them. If the prey turns and looks in the direction of the smell and detects that they are being hunted, the lions tend to freeze so as not to alert their prey that they are there. This process might continue until the lions are much closer. Tall dry grass provides good hunting cover for the lions because their coats blend well with the dry grass. 

Lions may also wait by a water source because they know that while their prey is busy drinking water, they can seize this chance to catch them.

Lion pride dynamics

A few young lions resting by a dam.

A lion’s gestation period is about 110 days – about three and a half months. When it’s time to give birth, the lioness will leave her pride and go to a secluded place to give birth to the newborn cubs, who are born blind. After 3-15 days, the cubs start opening their eyes – which change colour until they are about three months old. 

One of the interesting facts about lions is that the lionesses will stay close to her cubs for the first few weeks to make sure they are safe. To make sure the cubs aren’t caught by predators, the lioness will carry the cubs from place to place by the scruffs of their necks. 

A lion cub resting in the grass and looking towards the camera.

After about six to eight weeks, the cubs are finally introduced to the pride and they greet each other by rubbing on each other’s necks. The adult lionesses of the pride will help each other raise the cubs – the cubs can even drink milk from their mother’s sister. This technique helps to increase the survival of the cubs by providing protection within the pride.

Male lions are responsible for defending the territory, which ensures the survival of their cubs. They are responsible for duties such as territory patrol – which involves marking their scents and roaring. This helps to send a message to other male lions that this area has an owner that they’d have to fight in order to take it.

When it comes to fighting, a lion’s mane will help to protect the neck and spine from the claws of other male lions during fierce fights. 

When do male lions leave the pride?

One of the interesting facts about lions is that males leave the natal pride when they reach sexual maturity, and go off to find a pride to run of their own.

After two or three years, male lions must leave their pride in order to keep their genes strong, which can’t happen if they mate with their sisters and cousins. 

To survive in the wild, male lions might unite and form a coalition. Male lions from different pride can unite in order to increase their chances of success when hunting and defending their new territories from older territorial males.

When a coalition of male lions take over a territory, they will often kill the cubs of the previous male(s). This then causes the females to go into oestrus, so the males get a chance to mate with the female lionesses and carry on their genes.

Do lions roar?

A lion stalks through thick grass.

Lions are the only cats whose roar can be heard up to several kilometres away – which gives a thrilling nighttime experience when they communicate with each other. They are also incredibly good hunters at night because of their good eyesight – which is about five times better than ours – which gives them the advantage to see their prey at night. 

Are white lions a unique species?

One of the most interesting facts about lions is that white lions aren't a unique species at all, but a result of a genetic distinction.

You also get a type of lion called white lions. These lions are not a different species of lion – and they’re not albino lions either. Leucism causes these lions to lack their colour. They are only found in South Africa in the Timbavati region – which is why so many tourists from all over the world come and see them. 

What did Lion King get wrong?

When it comes to facts about lions, Lion King got a bit creative! You may remember the scene where Mufasa teaches Simba to hunt by using Zazu as a practice. Normally lion cubs already have hunting instincts; it’s in their blood. They are just supposed to sharpen it and the one who is responsible for teaching the lion cubs how to hunt is the female. 

After being chased out of his pride, a male lion needs to go and find his own territory and he cannot come back to his birth pride as he cannot mate with her aunts and sisters. Simba and Nala would never have mated because they belong in the same pride.

Lions don’t have a single life partner as the pride is typically made up of many lionesses so they male mates with those lionesses so they are polygamous not like Simba and Nala who were life partners. Last but not least lions are big eaters and they do not survive by eating bugs. They need to eat meat that contains protein which enables them to grow so they have to have a strong muscular body that will enable them to take down big prey.

So there you have it! Chulu’s well-researched, and interesting facts about lions. Are you keen to learn more about lions and other members of the Big Five? Apply for a Bushwise course today.

Blog by Chulu Msofe, photos by Louise Pavid


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