Cats in general are known to be notorious loners, always keen to protect their individual space and territories.
This goes for both the bigger cats like tigers and leopards and the much smaller pet cats. There is, however, a conspicuous exception to this ‘rule’ – the King of The Jungle.
Yes, the second-largest member of the cat family, lions, are the only social cats. They mostly live, hunt, and move in groups called prides, which can include anywhere between 2 and 40 members.
A typical pride consists of about a dozen females, 2-4 males, and a bunch of cubs.
The females in every pride are related in some way, do most of the hunting, and retain their membership of the pride for very long periods.
The males (both adults and cubs) leave at one point or another, either after being violently kicked out or to seek new territory.
Why Lions Live in Groups?
Lions live in groups because bigger groups have better territories. In the most arid plains where African lions live, areas with water sources and dense vegetation are priceless, and consequently, in very high demand among both lions and other animals. From a lion’s perspective, areas like these are “prime estate” – for obvious reasons – and worth fighting for.
How do Lions Live in Pride?
For many years, wildlife researchers have tried to understand and explain how lions evolved to be social animals without much success.
The commonly held assertion – that prides are primarily meant to give lions an upper hand when hunting in the rough terrains of the African savannah, is not supported by enough proof to withstand the tests of time.
Out of all the many ongoing studies, the work of Anne Mosser, an assistant professor at the College of Biological Sciences, stands out the most.
Mosser’s study, which is also published in the reputable journal; Behavioral Ecology, suggests that the evolution of lion’s social habits is caused by both environmental and behavioral factors.
It also confirmed what many scientists have always thought: that lions are not innately social creatures (which explains why they always fight for meals) but had to adopt social living to ensure their survival.
Mosser’s professor, Craig Packer from McKnight University, also did several studies with his ecology students with a view of understanding lion habits.
In the studies, he sought to test several hypotheses and disprove common myths about lion groupings and subsequently develop fact-backed conclusions.
Debunking The Most Popular Myths And Theories
Both Packer and Mosser debunked a lot of theories held by the public, fellow researchers, and conservationists. These include:
Myth 1: Lions Hunt Better In Groups
Lions, especially lionesses, are pretty small compared to some of the prey animals in the African wild, such as buffaloes, hippos, and zebras.
They are also pretty heavy and less athletic (they’re heavier than all other cats except tigers) and have relatively low stamina.
Considering that they mostly live in open plains where prey can see them from afar, the idea of chasing prey in groups looks quite sensible.
As Packer found out in one of his studies, lionesses can easily take down prey singlehandedly, especially when the prey is not too big.
Further, he observed that within an existing pride, the hunting efficiency dropped significantly when the group got bigger, while fights over food increased.
Myth 2: Prides Give Better Protection to Cubs
It is widely believed that lionesses, and their male mates, banded together to protect their cubs from predators like hyenas, leopards, and even males from other prides who may want to kill them as they seek to take over the pride.
This theory was put to rest when both Packer and Mosser found that even cubless females tended to stick together when part of the same pride.
Myth 3: Raising Cubs
A lot of people think that lionesses with cubs band together so they can raise their cubs in good fashion, providing common playing time, care and even breast milk.
But, as Packer found out, female lions don’t really like breastfeeding other females’ cubs, and mostly lookout for the interests of their offspring.
The Real Reasons For Social Living Among Lions
Mosser’s team observed that a big majority of fatal territorial fights among lions occurred in or near confluences (where streams come together).
They also found that larger prides occupied bigger and more prime territories and that small prides that somehow managed to occupy areas near confluences gained female members and became much bigger in a short time.
Conversely, groups that lost bits of their prestigious territories lost most of their members, both male and female.
Can Multiple Male Lions Live Together?
Yes, multiple male lions can live together. However, a pride can only have one alpha male at a time, who does all the mating and who gets priority during meal times.
Can Brother lions Stay Together?
There are plenty of all-male prides, called Coalitions, formed by mostly younger lions who were kicked out of their native prides after attaining sexual maturity. In most cases coalitions are formed by lions with a strong common bond (brothers, cousins, half-brothers, etc) and are therefore much smaller than normal prides, having between 2-7 members.
Basically, coalitions give castaway lions a way to survive the brutal nomadic life and expand their territory, which in turn allows them to find mates.
Can a Lioness Kill a Lion?
Adult male lions are on average much bigger and stronger than lionesses, so in a one-on-one fight, females will have very little chance of beating, leave alone killing an adult male.
But as mentioned earlier, lions move in groups and it is pretty common for lionesses to gang up against lions, usually when they consider them a threat to their cubs.
However, most of these attacks rarely result in death.
What are Lions Afraid of?
Lions are mainly afraid of two types of animals; bigger mammals like elephants, hippos, and giraffes, and of course human beings, who are also their biggest threat. Lions don’t like hunting larger animals as their ways of fighting back typically include kicking out wildly and goring at the relatively smaller lions.
| Additional reading: Do Lions Eat Elephants?
Lions consider humans, especially taller, well-built men as intimidating and a threat to them and try as much as possible to avoid them.
This doesn’t mean that they run away whenever they come across a human – but that they tend to be more alert, nervous, and prefer to stay a fair distance away.
Can a Single Hyena Kill a Lion?
Almost impossible. Adult male lions are almost twice as big as an ordinary hyena and can be up to 4 times heavier. Lions also have heavier paws and an adult lion can kill an adult hyena with a single swipe of their paws.
One male lion can successfully chase away a pack of 5 adult hyenas and take over their kill.
The only lions that hyenas can come close to killing are single lionesses and cubs, and even then, they would have to work very hard for a victory.
Can Tigers Kill Lions?
Tigers and lions are commonly pitted against each other, with each of them being touted as the real King of the Jungle. However, there are some major differences between the two cats.
One, tigers are much heavier than lions, weighing up to 600 pounds, while lions hardly reach 500. Adult tigers can grow up to 12.5 feet long, while lions range between 6.5 and 11 feet.
In a one-on-one scenario, a tiger would decimate a lion in seconds.