Of all the Felidae, the lion is the only animal that relies extensively on group cooperation. It is best therefore to describe lion behavior through it's life stages in the pride.
Lion cubs are born in isolation from the pride. There are usually two to five cubs in a litter, and each weighs about 5 pounds at birth. Their eyes are open, but they cannot see well and are completely dependent on their mothers.
|After a few weeks, the cubs are introduced to the pride. Here they will spend about a year learning skills and strengthening social bonds through play. Cubs are generally tolerated by the whole pride. In fact, they are cared for by all females rather then just their own mothers. This is possible since the females in the pride usually give birth at the same time, and so all are lactating and able to suckle cubs. This is also helped by the close social and genetic relationship of the mothers.|
|Lionesses tend to stay in the pride they are born in. This makes the group a collection of sisters, aunts, cousins, mothers and grandmothers who have grown together. Although lions do not have the same concept s of 'kin' and genetic relations as humans do, it may not be too presumptuous to assume these animals have the same sense of family devotion . Perhaps they feel some sense of commitment to the group they have grown, played, hunted, and faced hardship with. Whatever the case, this communal raising of cubs has definite benefits. A cub that loses it's mother is not necessarily destined to die itself as there is an entire support group ready to care for it. If not for this communal life, these cubs would surely die within days.|
Although the bonds in the pride are strong, there is still the existence of cubs killed by adults. This takes place if a new male takes over a pride with young cubs. His first task as the new prime male of the pride is to kill all the existing cubs of the former male. This seems cruel, but does have advantages for the new male in terms of his lineage. A male does not hold a pride for long, and it is when he holds one that he is able to mate and pass on his genes. If he waits to raise the former leader's cubs, he is losing out in genetic terms since he is likely to lose his pride before they are weaned and their mothers go into estrus again. When he kills the current cubs, the lionesses will again have a period of estrus and the new male will be able to contribute his own genes to the gene pool before he is driven out. As for the lionesses, their genetic contribution is secure either way. No matter which male is the father, they are always the mother. In fact, the lioness may have gotten better genes from the new male and perhaps a greater chance for her cubs to survive and reproduce.
|After they are about a year old the cubs begin to join the pride in hunts. Their hunting skills become more serious, and their play more rough. It is during this period that they begin to fine tune their skills for adult life. Within another year, they will begin the next phase in their lives.|
At about two years of age, the cubs are no longer tolerated by the pride. Their mothers are usually ready for their next litter of cubs, and they are often driven out to become nomads. This usually happens to young males, but if may also happen to females. If the pride is too large and has difficulty supporting itself, young females will also be driven to become nomads. This driving out of young cubs has some importance in the survival of the pride. For females, it keeps the pride at a size that requires less to support. For males, there are two other advantages for the pride. First, there is less competition for the prime male over mating in the pride. Second, it helps avoid incest. By leaving the pride, the young males will move to mate with other lionesses rather than those related to them.
Nomadic life usually consists of a period of scavenging and wandering over a large area until the young lion is ready to join another pride. For females, this means inclusion . They may be included in a new pride once they have come into estrus and are mated by another male. For males, it means conquering.
Young males usually travel in small groups. This may help in taking over a pride, if the young males can outnumber the current male or males holding it. Usually they spend their early years as nomads scavenging and avoiding challenges.
After a few more years, the young males will begin to challenge those holding territory. They approach the dominant males with threats, and scent mark the territory they intend to take. The pride is then often taken with a fight, but there are also times when the older male 'denounces his throne' and simply abandons the pride to the new males. The new territory holders now begin to establish their own lineage. The average time for a male or group of males to hold a pride is about three years, before they too are driven out.
LIONS AND HYENAS
Movies and folktales seem to portray lions and hyenas as mortal enemies in constant competition. But just how accurate is this portrayal? From what zoologists can tell, it's a very realistic description. One outstanding example is the observations of a lion described in the book 'Hunting With the Moon'. This lion was called Ntchwaidumela by researchers, a name which means "He who greets with fire".
In one caption, this particular lion was referred to as 'The Hyena Killer'. He was seen actively pursuing and killing hyenas. One incident described by the authors involved a pack of hyenas challenging The two other adult males of Ntchwaidumela's pride, Mandevu, and Motsumi, one of the dominant lionesses of the pride. Ntchwaidumela made a steady charge at the matriarch of the pack, speeding up as he closed in. when he caught up with her, he pulled her down and killed her. In the description of the attack, he seemed to focus only on the hyena, ignoring all else around him.
This type of conflict between hyenas and lions seems common. It is not always over a kill, some accounts were described where the two predators met and made threat gestures to each other, such as marking territory. Most animals rarely mark territory in the presence of another species, but only to warn members of their own species to avoid the area.
Besides threats, there were instances like the descriptions of Ntchwaidumela where lions actively hunted down and killed hyenas. In this case, the hyenas were not eaten. An effort was put forth to attack them. Had it been only an attack to remove the danger, it would seem that Nthcwaidumela would not pursue the hyena once she began her retreat. Usually this is the case, when the danger has passed no further effort is put forth. I have seen an example of this in a documentary about wild dogs. An intruding hyena was fought off until it retreated. When the pups were no longer in danger, the dogs ended the attack. Ntchwaidumela was acting more offensive than defensive, as if he wanted to be sure the hyenas he hated would never come back. As Dereck Joubert wrote in his book 'Hunting With the Moon' :
|"Anyone who watches a violent contact between lions and hyenas, one that is not related to food, can see plainly that there is a blood feud between them that is uncannily similar to those at which our own species is so adept."|
sources : 1."Hunting with the Moon: The Lions of Savuti" Dereck and Beverly Joubert. published by the National Geographic Society, 1997.
LIONS IN HUMAN SOCIETY
When people think of lions, the image of royalty immediately comes to mind. In most cultures the lion has been used to symbolize both rulers and the strength of the nation. Kings are depicted either with or as lions in many cultures. Lions are also kept as pets in this respect. It was recorded that the Egyptian pharaohs Ramasses II and Tutankhamun kept lions as pets, perhaps used as an image of strength to foreigners.
Besides being pictured with rulers, lions have been characterized as rulers themselves. They have been portrayed as the stereotyped 'king of the beasts' in cartoons, comics, and satires. In C.S Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, The lion is portrayed not only as a king, but as an almost supernatural being with power over time, life, and death
Lions have been portrayed in this way for several reasons. One may be their apparent strength and confidence. Very few animals are able to challenge a lion. Even other predators such as cheetahs and leopards will flee lions or give up their kills when challenged. Watching a lion walk the savanna, it seems to have an air or confidence and grace in it's almost undisputed place in the hierarchy of animals around it. In fact, it is probably only elephants that are easily able to deter a lion without a challenge. To many, it seems a lion has absolute control over it's 'kingdom' through it's strength and grace. This embodies the human ideals of strength and power. It is therefore easy to see why it has been chosen by so many as a symbol of the strength of a ruler or nation.
Perhaps another reason why lions appear so strong to us is in our own history. The idea of 'man the hunter' is being replaced by the perhaps more accurate 'man the hunted'. It is likely our ancestors may have been easy prey for predators such as lions. Reminders of this are still around, one such instance being in the man-eaters of Tsavo. Perhaps it is this fear that over time has been translated to both admiration and an ideal character many like to see in themselves.
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