The Wildlife Waystation, with its lion population now at sixty-two, is the place to be if you want to hear lions roar in “stereo”. Although “The Big Roar” is a sound generally heard in the evening, lions may be heard at any time of the day or night. One cat may start it off, but it doesn’t take long before the rest are joining in it is a memorable chorus, indeed!
Panthera Leo, quite nearly the largest member of the family Felidae (tigers are the largest), has historically been referred to as “King of the Beasts” because of its power and imposing appearance.
With tawny-colored fur, a long tufted tail, and weighing in at 300 to 500 pounds and seven to ten feet long, this cat is a muscularpowerhouse of a predator, with sharp, retractable claws and powerful jaws.
The male, somewhat larger than the female and with an impressive mane, is definitely a creature that demands attention. His job is to protect the pride. However, it is the females that actually are the primary “breadwinners” or wildebeest, or gazelle, or zebra in this carnivore family group.
A lion may run at speeds of over thirty miles per hour when attacking prey, but can hold this speed for only short distances. They depend upon stealth to approach within close range before launching an attack. Lions do not hunt every day and may only spend two or three hours in pursuit of food the remainder of their time is spent resting. Like most cats, they sleep sixteen to twenty hours a day. Lions are the only members of the cat family that are primarily social and generally live in family groups called prides. These prides are usually made up of one or more adult males, two or more females as well as adolescents and cubs.
Females rarely leave the pride, but male cubs are often expelled if a new male joins the group. Some males who may have literally “lost their pride” in a takeover by another male may become loners, or join with other such losers to form bachelor prides.
Lions are actively polygamous and breed quite often in the wild. After a gestation period of about 110 days, one to four spotted cubs are born. Although in captivity, lions may live as much as twenty-five years, in the wild they usually live about twelve years. Lions once ranged throughout Africa and from Europe to Iran and India. Today, they are limited to Africa south of the Sahara where good populations still exist in various national parks, and a single sanctuary in India, the home of the smaller Gir Forest lion. Even though lions prefer the grassy plains, savannas, and dry scrub, in India they have successfully adapted to forest life.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc. was looking for a lion to “adopt” when they decided that Zaire, the youngest male at the Waystation at the time fit the bill. One of a litter of four born in early 1996 to one of the lions recently rescued from Idaho, he underwent a name change and, still fully sponsored by the motion picture company, is now known as LEO, JR. He has made numerous “personal” appearances, including the birthday parties thrown in his honor at the company’s Santa Monica headquarters.