My Fascination with Lions

We're on safari in the Masai Mara in Kenya. Until this trip to Africa, the only big game animals I had ever seen were on television or in a zoo; however, now the zoo is live, in real time and with no cages. Our goal is to see the "Big Five" in this famous reserve where Out of Africa was filmed. This group consists of lions, leopards, elephants, buffalo and rhinoceros. Today we're going to hone in on lions, the undisputed king of the jungle.

These cats are big! They are powerful and ferocious with incredible hunting prowess. The first thing that is noticeable is that the majority of lions that can be seen are female. They exist in units called prides which can occupy twenty to forty square kilometers of territory. It is quite easy to recognize a female as they have no mane.

During the day when the sun is hot you can see them laying around or sleeping. However, later in the day as the sun is going down, they start their hunting. The females conduct most of this activity, although are helped by males when taking down a large animal.

Female lion with a Wildabeest kill early in the morning

Female lion with a Wildabeest kill early in the morning

The females continue their prowl.

After a rest period from the hot noon day sun, we continue in the van in search of a male lion. The search has just become more interesting as we approach a male with his distinctive mane. He has found a receptive female in oestrus, the condition in which courting and mating occur. The female becomes sexually active every two years as her cubs have been successfully weaned.

For two to four days the male is constantly at the female's side. Copulation can be initiated by either. For one to two days, every fifteen minutes, the female may rub herself against the male to start the ritual. Alternatively, the male can take the lead by testing the female's genitals, grooming her or mounting. The entire act lasts less than a minute each time and ends with the male biting the female's neck softly during the final few seconds before withdrawal. Following the act the two can be found grooming or rubbing against each other. What a scene! 

As dusk approaches we realize how amazing the animal kingdom really is. Everything that we've seen today is an example of programmed behavior that is performed by instinct. It has been going on over time immemorial as the fittest survive based on the tenets of Darwin's theory of evolution. I go to bed hoping that humans don't do something to prevent this miracle from continuing in perpetuity.