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A few common misconceptions about lions clarified, as well as some downright bizarre facts

African lions (Panthero leo) in Tanzania

The African lion: king of the jungle.  This regal animal is a symbol of bravery and strength across many cultures.  Highly iconic, and one of the first animals children learn about, the lion is a common household name.  If only it actually lived in the jungle…

Let’s debunk a few common misconceptions about lions, and take a look at some surprising and odd facts:

Myth 1: The lion lives in the jungle

The African lion inhabits savannas, grasslands, semi-deserts, and scrub woodlands of Africa.  It does not live in the jungle, or dense rainforest, found in central and west Africa.  In fact, this is one of the only habitats in which the lion does not reside in Africa.

A very small population of Asiatic lions remain in Gujarat, India.  Their habitat here is in the dry, deciduous Gir Forest.

Why doesn’t the lion live in the jungle?  The lion relies on short-distance, sprint speed to catch its prey.  In a jungle, there is too much vegetation, which could pose a serious obstacle to chasing down agile prey.  Open savannas and grasslands are ideal, because the lion can conceal itself in the tall grass or behind shrubs, ambush its prey, and chase it down over a short distance in open terrain.  Additionally, many of the herd animals such as wildebeest and zebra – the lion’s preferred prey -inhabit the open grasslands and plains.


Two lionesses in a savanna

Myth 2: Prides of lions have multiple females and only one male

The common conception about lion prides is that they are composed of multiple females and one male; a sort of  harem.  Although this often occurs, there are many instances in which multiple males belong to the same pride.  Brothers, once they leave their natal pride – the pride they were born into – will often form a new pride together.  Two or more brothers, cast out     into the savanna on their own, will look to take over a male’s place in another existing pride.  If there is only one male in this pride, the two brothers will gang up on him, and often be successful in acquiring the lionesses.

Half -brothers may stick together as well.  Males that belong to the same cohort, or group of cubs of a similar age, all fathered by the same male but with different mothers, will often form their own prides.  These prides may have multiple males.

Young lions in Tanzania

Myth 3: All male lions have manes

A large, full mane acts as a threatening signal to other males, and a trait desired by lionesses.  However, in some parts of Africa, males have scanty  manes or even no manes at all.  One such example are the lions of Tsavo National Park, in southeast Kenya.  There are several theories as to why this is, one of them being that male lions lost their manes as a response to the extremely hot climate in this region.

To confuse the issue further, there are even rare instances of maned lionesses.  Although extremely uncommon, this anomaly has been reported to exist in the Okavango Delta region of Botswana, with recent photo confirmation.

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