Lions: Africa's Magnificent Predators

From Edge. A Photo Essay By Nathan Myhrvold.

Lions are the only truly social cat, living in groups called prides. A pride is a set of females, often but not always sisters, along with their cubs and subadult cubs. There are also one or more males, usually a coalition of two brothers, but sometimes unrelated lions. Lionesses are the backbone of the pride—they stay together for many years. Males tend to come and go—the typical time frame for them dominating a pride is just 3 to 4 years. Upon reaching adulthood female cubs may stay with the pride. Males never do—they disperse and become nomadic, looking for a pride where they can challenge the dominant male and take over.

Male lions really look the part of the "king of beasts". Their lives are full of violence, exploitation and sex—in other words just like human royalty through much of history. Male lions sleep an average 20 hours per day. The females on the other hand do all of the really hard work—killing the majority of prey, which the males then appropriate for themselves. The main danger males face is fighting off other males that want to take over their pride and territory. This is serious business; most male lions die in such fights. In between territory fights they are bad tempered and terrorize the females in their pride. ..

Lions can seem quite inept at hunting, because they have no way to communicate complicated information. In order to catch a buffalo a lion must jump on the buffalo's back, and do to that they need to get past the horns. They must jump on the back from the side or behind. Once on the back, the lion hangs on for dear life, a bit like a cowboy riding a bull. The goal is to get the buffalo to stumble. If there is more than one lion hunting this is the point when they will start to pile on.

Lions don't wait to kill the animal before starting the process of eating it—as soon as the buffalo stops thrashing, lions start to eat. This is much harder than it sounds however, because the hide is very thick. ..

Related: The Lion Whisperer Photos.


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