There are two types of lion, the African and Asiatic. The Asiatic is smaller and more aggressive. The Asiatic lion is also known as the Indian lion. Once the Asiatic lion roamed from Greece to central India. The symbol of a lion is a standard for power and leadership. Big-game expeditions reduced, the Asiatic lion to near-extinction. by the late 1940s, the last remaining population was fewer than 20.
The Asiatic lion is under protection of the Indian government. They are well protected in the teak forest and scrubland of the Gir Forest Sanctuary. Presently, their population is approximately 200.
The problem with restoring a population from near extinction is the lack of genetic diversity., which often weakens the lion's immune system and lowers the birthrate. If disease were to strike, it would be devastating.
Besides the big-game expeditions, the African lions suffered several other setbacks. Except for a few national parks, South Africa completely eradicated the lion population along with much wildlife during the first part of the 20th century. Since the end of apartheid, lions are being reintroduced into the South African reserves.
The translocation of lions and the restoration of ecosystems require an intense understanding of lions and the ecological system as a whole. More studies of lions are going on now than ever before. In the parks and reserves, the tracking and sighting of lions in the wild are the most popular attractions. South Africa's exuberance is referred to as Eco-tourism.
The enterprise of eco-tourism displaced many of Africa's indigenous people (who had farmed and hunted the land over 700 years) to camps. Embarrassingly, the camps and the people themselves became part of the eco-tourist attraction.
The Serengeti supports the largest population of lions in the wild. Preservation of the African Serengeti lion and African Ngorongoro Crater lion had its meager beginnings in the late 1920s.
In the 1880s, a virus called 'Rinderpest' raged repeatedly across Africa, killing millions of animals. It finally subsided in the 1930s except for its persistence to infect herbivores in the Serengeti. It was a time when man-eating lions could be a reality. An elder from a Masai village said so many people starved that "vultures forgot how to fly". Not until 1962, and a mass vaccination of domestic cattle for Rinderpest virus did the Serengeti's population rebound.
In 1994, an outbreak of canine distemper caused 1/3 of the Serengeti lion population to die. It took large-scale vaccination programs administered to domestic dogs against distemper and rabies to halt the deaths.
The African Ngorongoro Crater lion is the largest lion. the Crater is located on the southeastern edge of the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. The crater formed by the collapsing of an inactive volcano. The volcano slammed back into itself, creating a 125 square mile plateau. The force of the volcano falling formed walls around the landmass. The crater floor is a microcosm of the African Savanna. The lions do not bother leaving the crater and the patrolling male lions keep the other lions out. The Ngorongoro Crater sustains high concentrations of wildlife. The crater floor provides a refuge for elephants and the remaining wild populations of black rhinoceros in East Africa.
In 1962, a plague of biting flies (Stomoxys calcitrans) weakened the lions to the degree that hunting for food was impossible and the Crater lion population dropped to about 10. It is believed that this was when 5 or 6 males entered the crater. Today, there are about 200 lions that make up 5 or 6 prides.
Lions are the only cats that live in socially structured groups. In the wild, most female lions in a pride are related (sisters, mothers, daughters, and cousins). The female lions and their young for a pride. A pride could consist of as many as 18 females, the young, and 7 male lions.
In the wild, young cubs have a 70-80% morality rate. Young male lions are about 3 years old when they are forced to leave the pride. The young males roam in bachelor groups called coalitions. A coalition matures together, bonds, and attempts to take over a pride by battling with the other male lions. The turnover of male lions in a pride is about every third year.
The lionesses never outgrows her playfulness. Female lions groom the young, the males, and each other. Lionesses do most of the hunts for water and food; however, the male lions eat first. If food is not a problem, lions will lounge in the shade 18-20 hours a day. The lions' roar is audible for 5 miles. Lions make a humming sound, like purring, when being affectionate and while nursing cubs. When approaching each other to signal non-aggressive intentions, they make a faint puff-puff sounds. Lions have 4 or 5 parallel rows of whisker spots on either side of the muzzle. The spots above the topmost row are identifying markings lions have for life.
Numerous lions are obtained as pets. It is unrealistic to expect a lion to behave like a domestic cat.
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