Easily the most majestic mammal in the animal kingdom, the African lion has been considered the king of beasts since antiquity; the feline even holds a spot in the Holy Bible as a premier animal. Framed by a golden mane and harboring a ferocity and bravery unmatched by most other animals, the lion is also the only social cat – in the sense that its entire life revolves around the pride.
The other big cats, such as the leopard, jaguar and tiger, are definitely solitary animals and meet up infrequently to mate. In the case of the tiger, in particular, the self-established hunting boundaries of a male and female may overlap somewhat.
The boundaries of males NEVER overlap, because entering the territory of one male leads to a fight for dominance. The offending tiger isn’t merely encroaching on potential food; he is also encroaching on potential female mates – which is an absolute no-no in the animal kingdom. This is a constant theme among any of the animals – whether they’re carnivores or herbivores.
The Lion Pride
On the plains of Africa, a lions pride is usually comprised of a bevy of female lions – known as lionesses – many cubs, and several male lions. The females are almost always related, as it is rare for a pride to accept an alien as their own – although it does happen. There are sisters, mothers, daughters and the occasional grandmother as the female contingent. The males are usually brothers, with one dominant lion that is the only one who breeds with all the females.
The other male lions are there for protection against external threats, and even though they are relatively subordinate to the dominant male, they all eat first from the females’ kill. Usually, these males roam their established range, leaving marks and droppings to signal their territory to passing denizens of the plains. Sometimes, the brothers eventually leave the pride of their dominant sibling in search of their own feline harems.
Lion Cubs and the Lion Pride
Although the pride of African lions is very much a family, the beginnings of a new male’s rule can be as brutal as anything ever witnessed by man. After defeating or running off the former, usually aging king, a coalition (or single) male lion will then hunt down his offspring.
Upon finding them, a one-sided bloodbath commences, as the African lion mauls them all so that the females will once again come into estrus; his sole intent is to father his own exclusive line. The lionesses reluctantly watch this, unable to do anything about the familial carnage being wrought by the 500 lb. behemoth. Their father wasn’t strong enough to ward off the danger, and the circle of life must first resume with a harbinger of death.
Shortly afterwards, the dominant male African lion will mate with all the of-age females and truly claim the pride as his own, by bringing forth new life that all carry his genes. The cubs will be born, and the father lion will be playful and gruff with them; although the task of raising them and bringing them to teen age lies with the lionesses of the pride, all of whom serve as a collective motherhood.
One day, the male cub lions will come of age and leave the pride to find their own stables – after all, the of-age females are all his sisters. The lioness cubs will grow and almost always remain within the pride, as their mothers age and someday pass on. Their father and possibly uncles will pass on, too – although they are usually killed by young upstarts, who then begin the cycle all over again.