Lion: Disputed King of The Jungle

By Anis Shakur
Tuesday – June 2, 2020
NEW YORK (United States): According to naturalist Henry Benson, ‘animals are not brethren, they are not underlings, they are other nations caught with ourselves in the net of life and time. Fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.’ That said, is lion king of the jungle?

How majestic, graceful and exalted a lion appears with a touch of magnanimity and large-heartedness, as it stands determined, erect on the ever scorching, thirsty, African plains.

This big, tawny, amber-eyed cat is, indeed, an emblem of strength and valour. A fully grown male lion measures between 8 feet to 9 and a half feet in length, including the three feet tail, which adds a wee-bit charm to its already conspicuous looks.

The maximum weight scales at 400 to 500 lbs.; as for the age, 19 years have been the limit so far. Unlike most other cats, lions are not apprehensive of water and become master swimmers, when they grow up.

Likewise, lions are expert tree-climbers, which is conceived to be an onerous task for some of its near and dear cousins. To make an assault, the lion first drops its head, tail twitches, and then the lion stand rigidly, uttering a series of rumbling growls. While eyes aflame, it charges. One remains aghast at such a swift movement.

A typical lion greeting lasts less than a minute, which is a conventional touching of heads. When they are in a reclining mood, they perch over a nearby tree, stretch out on the branches with paws in the air to get forty winks! In such a posture they resemble a pet kitten.

Lion hails from the cat family, which comprises thirty-six members. Some of its distinguished cousins are leopard, panther, jaguar, ocelot, cougar, puma, caracal, lynx.

Cheetah is the world's fastest animal. Unlike leopard, a cheetah cannot climb. A young cheetah can be tamed and trained to hunt, while a tiger is physically heftier than a lion.

Immaculate camouflage: This benign cat draws due advantage of its natural oddity to camouflage. Black shading on his ears conceals the head outline, coat has semblance with grass. Thus, even the least cover suffices to hide them.

Exemplary feats: In fact, creatures of the wild sometimes give extraordinary performances in sports (who say champions are confined to men). Consider for instance, one straight 40 feet leap by a lion, or take a lioness, which jumped without confronting any strides to the top of a twelve feet embankment.

Charging lions have been known to cover a 100 yards in just four-seconds. Acoustics: Lions rely on numerous sounds by means of which to communicate, like cough, grunts, roars, and morns. The lioness deals her children with a soft moan.

Tragic saga: Since the earliest times, these cats have left a profound imprint on art, religion and fables. Their domain was once the continent of Africa, and countries like India, Persia, Syria, Palestine, Greece, the Balkans and the British Isles.

But the entire balance of nature was toppled upside down when man ventured to intervene with their habitats. The Egyptian, Assyrian, and the Persian monarchs inflicted irreparable damage by killing hundreds of thousands of these majestic animals.

The Romans trapped over 50,000 lions and brought them to Rome within a span of four decades. One Mughal emperor hunted them with an army of 100,000.

Ultimately, by the turn of the 19 century the once proud king of the jungle was extinct almost everywhere except in less than a dozen parts of Africa, perhaps like swallows that are trying to celebrate summer in spring.

Moreover, the most handsome and priced sub-species of all, that is the black-mane cape lion was also exterminated by 1850s.

The prey: Surprisingly enough, the lioness does the hunting; the lion shows up only to claim his lion's share. However, if the prey is massive, unpredictable, like half a ton murderous buffalo, only then the lion enters the arena to assist his lighter lady (very regal of him).

Among its favourite hunt are the members of deer family like sambhar, wildebeests, gnu, impala, etc. Zebra is also listed in their menu. One lion requires approximately fifty zebras annually to sustain.

A pride of 6 lions kill on the average two antelopes a week. In the wild they mostly hunt at night. Also, once in a blue moon they may also resort to cannibalism or eating human flesh.

But such untoward incidents like cannibalism, occur under heavy odds and duress. At times a lion may also slay a member of its own species. A case in point is Tanzania's Serengeti national park, where during 2,900 hours of observation, fourteen killings of one lion by another were witnessed.

Courtship and child rearing: The courtship lasts two weeks. Although the male and female lion seem to be fighting, they are actually courting each other! The gestation period is 108 days, for which the expectant mother must leave her pride of 6 to 20 lions and seek a desolate place, preferably in the vicinity of water. There she gives birth to three or four fluffy, striped and spotted twelve inches cubs, each weighing less than a pound.

For the first three months, the offspring are nourished, of course, on the unparalleled ambrosia, the mother's milk. Then after 6 months, the cubs accompany the mother on hunting trips.

While at home a vigorous training ensues, involving several techniques, like hunting at the proper place, preferably near the water hole. Pride cooperation, and killing method. Vigilance and patience are indeed the two most precious weapons of hunting cats.

The children live with the mama for two years. Their manes grow after three years and maturity is attained at five years of age. They learn the art of survival by persistent trial and error.

If a pregnant lioness is handicapped in hunting, then she is not left to starve but succoured by one or two lionesses who act as ‘aunts.’ The lioness produces an offspring every third year. Because in the interval, she is occupied with teaching the previous litter to become independent.

Another justifiable reason is that the habitant may not be exhausted by their profusion.

Why king? Howsoever grotesque it may seem to the uninitiated, but it has now been proved after scrupulous research that the supposed lord of the jungle is, in reality, a lazy, selfish and greedy creature.

So how can an animal with such gross shortcomings be competent for the topmost rank?

Well, king or no king, but to be candid, goaded by its sheer sublimity, one cannot resist praising the world's great natural sight, the disputed lord of beast, with whom we all share the earth.

Info: Prominent writer, Anis Shakur, is an essential employee in the division of animal resources, SUNY Downstate, and the animal research, VA Brooklyn.