By Evelyn Masaba
Uganda has over 500 lions, also known as Panthera Leo, living in the country’s national parks and reserves, including Lake Mburo and Queen Elizabeth national park, among several others.
Queen Elizabeth National Park is known to have the biggest number of lions which are also famous for their tree climbing antics.
Do you think you know a lot about lions? Here are a few facts you might not be aware of…
The African lion will not be found in the jungle, but you will definitely find it slinking in the underbrush of the savannah, patiently waiting for the right prey and they easily blend in away from the eyes of their innocent targets. When in Queen Elizabeth National Park, it is easy to spot the lions lazily sprawled on low-hanging tree branches or under a tree and dense bushes in the heat of day.
Lions live in groups called Prides, which comprise of males and females. Within the pride, there is always one Alpha male; one that heads the group and when he grows older the younger males will fight with him in order to become the Alpha. Lions, as their smaller domestic cousins (cats), tend to enjoy licking, head rubbing, touching and purring at each other when they are resting. They always keep in touch with each other by roaring from wherever they are so that the others can hear them.
The female lions are the ones that are usually in charge of hunting; they will move miles through the habitats looking for easy prey. They usually hunt in packs for the whole pride although in the end the males always get the biggest share of the hunt. The males take charge of the pride’s safety.
Lions are known to drink water every day so they usually stay near a water hole, although they can go up to 4 days without water, especially during the dry season or when they are migrating or hunting for food. They obtain the necessary moisture from the stomach contents of their prey.
In a pride, sometimes two lionesses give birth at the same time and raise their cubs together. A lioness can raise cubs that are not her own; they tend to allow the cubs to suckle her milk when their mother is not able to feed them. The litter are usually nurtured from birth till when they can fend for themselves, although when food scarcity hits the pride, some mothers might abandon their cubs.
Like it is in most cats, lions are lazy; they can sleep for over 20 hours a day since most of their other time is spent hunting and protecting their territory. That’s why sometimes when you go to parks or the Zoo, you will find that they are always lying down or not as interested in your activity as you would expect.
Some lions choose not to live among the Pride; they usually wander off alone especially young males that have come of age. They leave the pride for a number of years living as nomads and getting stronger looking for a pride of their own to take over. Others are known to join other prides as nomads; this is usually the male that was toppled by a younger one.
Lone lions do not get mates and are easily prone to poachers and hunters, making their lifespan short.
Generally, lions feed on antelopes, deers, kobs, elands, mice, lizards, warthogs and because they have a well organised hunt unit in the pride, they can easily hunt down animals as big as young elephants, wildebeests, hippos, crocodiles, rhinos and even giraffes. During the dry season when food is rare, lions can scavenge for food or take over food that has been hunted for by the hyenas, leopards or cheetahs.