Lions of Madikwe

by Tara Turkington - 2 May 2024

There is something viscerally beautiful about seeing a lion in the wild. Whether it’s a dark-maned male roaring into the night, cubs chasing each other’s tails or a female tearing flesh from a kill, we humans feel compelled to watch. The sight of a lion invokes a primal response, a thrill and a short rush of adrenaline to see this apex predator up close.

You’ve got a good chance of seeing lions on almost every visit to Madikwe. Here are a few fun facts you might not have known about these beautiful carnivores:

  1. Lions are the only big cats to live in sociable prides. They’re gregarious creatures that like to hunt and spend time with one another.

  2. There are only an estimated 20 000 to 25 000 lions left in the world, according to the World Wildlife Fund, and their conservation status is listed as vulnerable. Their numbers are depleting quickly.

  3. Females will stay with their same pride throughout their lives, while males move from one to another, mating with as many females as they can, to perpetuate their genes.

  4. Lion cubs have spots to help camouflage them. These fade over time.

  5. Baby lions are called cubs, whelps or lionets.

  6. Lions used to live across much of Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa, but are now confined only to Africa and to a small population of Asian lions in the Gir National Park in Gujarat, in western India (this population is classified as endangered).

  7. Lions are the only cats that roar together, and their roars can be heard up to eight kilometres away. Both males and females roar to communicate their whereabouts with one another, and males also roar to assert their dominance and to make females aware of their presence.

  8. Lions have few predators, other than humans, though spotted hyenas will kill young cubs if they get a chance. Male lions will also kill cubs that aren’t theirs.

  9. Lions will use teamwork to hunt, chasing animals towards hidden members of the pride.

  10. Lions are highly intelligent, and are perhaps the brainiest of the big cats. Experiments such as this one, conducted on a group of captive lions in Florida, have shown that they have good memories, and are able to learn easily from each other, which is not the case with all animals.

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There is a good chance of seeing lions during a stay at Mosetlha.

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Some males, like this one, have blonde manes, while others have dark manes. Mane colour is partly genetic.

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A lion yawns as night approaches in the Madikwe Game Reserve. Lions often spend their days sleeping, then wake up to hunt at night.

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Lions are highly sociable animals. Here, two brothers rub up against one another in the Madikwe Game Reserve.

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A male lion in the last light of the day.

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A male lion exhibits flehmen behaviour, in which he opens his mouth to detect pheromones left by other lions, through an organ in the roof of the mouth.

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A sleepy lionness.

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Young lions will have spots to help camouflage them. These will mostly fade away by the time a lion is about a year old.

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A lionness bares her teeth in a yawn, showing how sharp they are.