A face to face meeting with a lion is a sobering experience and most are grateful for the glass that divides lions from humans at Werribee, where these powerful and impressive animals may be seen at very close range.
Lions are found in most countries in sub-Saharan Africa. They once ranged through northern Africa, south-west Asia, Europe and India. Numbers are decreasing, as they are killed to protect livestock and as the numbers of potential prey dwindle. Sadly, a number of countries permit trophy hunting of lions, a practice that is justified as enabling conservation. Lions are also vulnerable to disease. It is not know how many lions remain in the wild in Africa: recent estimates have ranged from around 16,500 to 30,000 animals remaining. Lions are now classed as ‘vulnerable’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (on the IUCN ‘red list’).
Your visit helps to fight species extinction. Visiting the lions at Werribee is an opportunity not only to meet these magnificent animals, but also to learn about the threats to many African species, what the international community is doing to try to conserve this species, and how Zoos Victoria is contributing to the fight.
An adult male lion stands just over a metre tall at the shoulder, is over 3 metres long including tail, and averages about 220kg in weight. Females are considerably smaller. Cubs are spotted, and sometimes a few spots remain into adulthood on the legs and belly. Adult male lions are noted for their brown mane, which becomes darker and fuller as the animal matures and becomes stronger. The mane is apparently a sign of his strength and virility, as weaker males do not have such luxuriant manes.
Lions are the only cats to live in a large family group, called a pride. A pride can be as large as 30–40 members, mostly related females, their cubs and a small number of resident males. Dominating the pride is a single male, but more often a coalition of males. Competition among males to take over a pride is intense, and on average, the length of time in control of a pride is 2–3 years.
Lions are carnivorous and hunt a variety of prey including zebra, wildebeest, impala, buffalo and warthog. The pride hunts as a team, using an ambush method. It is more generally the females that hunt to feed the pride.
- Males eat first even though they generally do not participate in the hunt. Females eat next, followed by the cubs
- Only one in five lion cubs survives its first year. When food is scarce, feeding is in order of age and size, and the youngest and weakest do not survive
- A lion’s roar can be heard up to 8km away! Up close, the grass flattens in the impact of a roar
- A subspecies of lion, the Asiatic Lion, was once found all through India, the Middle East and Southern Asia, but now fewer than 300 survive in the Gir Forest National Park in western India