Although I am not fond of house cats (actually am allergic to their dander) I do have an intense fascination about those wild large cats that are highlights of most animal safaris. All cats are part of the biological classification family Felidae, and there are 36 species of cats in Felidae ranging from the small domestic cat to the largest big cat, the tiger.
Classification of cats are broken down by genus, which groups species that have similar characteristics. For the largest felines there are the following genera:
- Panthera: Includes cats that roar: lions, tigers, jaguars, leopards
- Felis : Includes non-roaring cats: cougars, mountain lion, lynx
- Acinonyx: The cheetah is the only member of this genus – they do not roar plus their claws do not completely retract like the Felis cats
- Lynx: Lynx and bobcats are members of this genus. Lynx characteristics include a short tail, tufts of black hair on the tips of their ears, large, padded paws, and long whiskers on the face.
I have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel around the world and see many of the above so permit me to share my photos and some of the amazing facts I learned.
Of course I must begin with THE KING as seen at the top of this post, which has this title even though it is not the largest of the big cats. Photos were taken in Kenya and Tanzania, in the Serengeti, Amboselli and Masai Mara national parks.
LION – Despite being a symbol of majestic strength and power, the lion is actually quite “lazy” as is sleeps up to 20 hours a day!
As sluggish as that sounds lions are actually the second fastest wild cat after the cheetah, but like the cheetah they are best at short sprints as they haven’t much stamina (time for another nap!) When lions do go all out they can reach a top running speed of 50mph.
In addition, unlike house cats, they are very social and live in groups of up to 15 lions. A group of lions is known as a pride, for those of. you who have enjoyed my previous posts on group names.
A lion’s roar can be heard from as far as 5 miles away and it is the loudest roar of all the big cats. Lions’ vocal chords are square and flat rather than triangular like most other animals. With a larger surface area being passed over by air, they can roar loudly with very little effort.
The male lion with his stately mane may be the King, but the lionesses carry big responsibilities. Lionesses are the main hunters, with the males chipping in when the prey is especially big. About 3 to 8 lionesses may work together on a hunt while the male watches the cubs and if food is scarce, they won’t share their kill with the cubs, as the lionesses must maintain the strength for the sake of the entire pride.
When food and water is plentiful, lionesses may give birth to up to 4 cubs, but 2 or 3 is more common. I did see just a few cubs during my safari, as they are usually kept hidden when they are young since they are very vulnerable to attacks not only from predators such as hyenas, but also other lions. Male lions, when fighting off another to win his pride, will sometimes kill the existing cubs, so the lionesses will come into estrus and the new male will mate with them to create his own progeny.
This tiny cub was snoozing in the heavy brush, with its mom standing guard.
Due to loss of habitat, hunting and poaching, the African lion population has undergone declines of over 40% over recent years. With some lion species extinct the remaining African and Asian lions left in the wild are estimated to be between 20,000 and 39,000, and the lion is now classified as “vulnerable.” They, as well as other animals I will talk about in future posts, need our protection. They are magnificent.