The Animals of the Aberdare Ranges of Kenya: The Lion

Kenya Lion

Panthera Leo Linneaus

Lions are supremely adapted predators, superbly adapted to hunt. They are carnivores, their bodies being streamlined for speed and power. Lions hold pride of place at the top of the food chain.

They have canines measuring up to 50 mm long (2″) and they kill their prey by suffocation, sinking these canines deep into their victim’s windpipe, crushing it and therefore effectively cutting off the air supply.

Lions have white edgings below their eyes, which have round pupils, to reflect the maximum amount of light since they are nocturnal hunters. But they also can hunt during the day. When water is available, they drink frequently, always keeping their head above water as they lap.

The bodies of both sexes are sandy brown to reddish brown above and paler below, with no markings whatsoever. They have faint black bars on the tip of their ears and their long tail is tipped black. This provides a sharp contrast from their environment and serves as a conspicuous following marker for the rest of the pride.

When showing aggression, the lion lashes its tail sideways. When charging, the tail is held straight out to maintain balance. A lion’s claws are protected by a sheath which helps to prevent blunting. They are kept sharp by clawing the barks of trees – just as a household cat does.

Male lions grow shaggy manes. They vary in color from sandy fur to dark brown or even black. These manes darken with age.

Cubs are born with spots, which slowly fade as they grow into adulthood.

Lions have a finely developed social structure. A social group is called a pride and consists of between 2 to12 individuals, with cubs. There are usually a few males in the pride. These are referred to as a coalition of males. A pride may sometimes contain as many as thirty individuals. Although the pride is a definite grouping of females, they do not stay together all the time. At times, they scatter widely. Members of the same pride interact peaceably. Females groom each other, suckle each other’s cubs and share nursing duties besides hunting together. Food is shared in a first–come, first-served basis.

The females normally remain in the pride until their death. In contrast, the males are transitory and rarely stay in a pride for more than two years. Females hunt in groups and demonstrate a well-developed cooperative effort, especially when hunting big prey. Lions have a fairly low hunting success rate and are notorious for stealing kills from smaller predators, namely cheetahs, hyenas and leopards.

Often, males lead a nomadic existence, either singly or in all-male groups. Some young males are driven from their pride when a new male takes over. Older males are forced to give up their pride by another dominant animal. Some appear to live on their own accord. The animals wander widely, often following migratory herds. Male coalitions defend their pride from other males, which threaten the survival of their own cubs. These battles are usually fearsome and bloody, sometimes resulting in a fatality. In this way, they retain exclusive and enjoy shared mating rights.

Lions of the Aberdares are an interesting species. They are not native to this habitat, having been introduced in the early 1930s. These animals soon showed strange mutations. They seemed to breed exceedingly well and soon their large numbers began to have a significant impact on the ecosystem. They threatened the survival of other species, namely the bongo [Large forest antelope], the giant forest hog and the rhinoceros, which is now an endangered species. The bongo is now almost extinct. The latter was not adapted to defend itself from the lion and it mistakenly chose aggression as a form of defense. The reality was that the bongo could not withstand even one lash from the lion’s paw. Disaster was already in motion!

Lions are the most adaptable among the animals in the wild and can be found from sea level to the snow-capped mountains. As long as they get adequate food, they breed all year round, unlike other animal species. In April 15th 2000, the KWS [Kenya Wildlife Service] was compelled to take action, pulling 200 lions out of the Aberdare Ranges. The number of animals that may have been culled to control their numbers is not known.

Nature did not design a system so predators could wipe out prey. No! Rather a delicate balance exists between them to ensure the survival of both. Meddling and interference often cause a disruption within this fine line, causing it to swing one way or the other.

Lions have shown themselves to have both the strength and savagery necessary to eliminate competition. Nature is indifferent to the fate of individuals, the survival of the species being paramount. It has therefore evolved systems that ensure the balance of nature and should be respected.

Nature has genius!

The Animals of the
Aberdare Ranges of Kenya
Nyambura Kiarie

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