Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Lions don’t actually live in a jungle; not the kind that’s overgrown with tangled vegetation and forest anyway. Their actual habitat is open planes and grasslands. Interestingly, one definition of ‘jungle’ in Hindi references a place that is not inhabited, which could account for the lion-jungle connection. Regardless, the lion is generally revered across cultures and widely acknowledged as the king of beasts. Reasons for this are numerous and based in folklore and some observable fact.

No fear of other animals

Across cultures, through the ages, lions symbolize courage, power, authority and strength and feature on heraldry more often than any other animals. While they have no natural predators, their worst enemy is the less impressive looking but no less adept hunter, the hyena (link to hyena article). Hyenas and lions eat similar food so dinner table scuffles are frequent. That said lions have no fear of other animals with which they share their habitat not even their cackling rivals. If challenged they will fight to the death to protect their pride (group) and their territory.

Order in the court

Everything in the animal kingdom, much like the human world, impacts on something. Sitting somewhat majestically at the top of the animal food chain, lions help to maintain order and balance. Without the lion, antelope, for example, would wipe out all grass resources for other animals.

Mane myths and truisms

Healthy male lions in their prime have impressive manes. Darwin may well have perpetuated the myth that it acts as a shield against injury, but this is untrue. Wounds or injuries to the mane area are no more frequent or lethal than those to other parts of the body. What is true is that the darker and thicker a male’s mane, the healthier and in the case of the former, the older the lion. Also, lions with darker manes have more testosterone and tend to be more aggressive and more attractive to the opposite sex.

The King’s Speech

A lion’s ferocious roar can be heard 8 kms away. This is how they keep in touch with one another. Females do most of the hunting while males patrol the territory, woo the ladies and protect the pride. Cooperative hunting largely at night means they can take down large animals such as zebra, wildebeest, buffaloes, rhinos, hippos, young elephants, and giraffes. That said lions are the laziest of the big cats in that they wile away most of the day snoozing for up to 20 hours.

Images courtesy of Jan van Huyssteen.

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