Lions (Panthera leo) are the largest of the big cats, two to four times the weight of their cousins, the leopard and cheetah. Lions are far more social and also show greater differences between the sexes than other cats. Males have manes which are fully developed by four years old, and they are up to 50 percent heavier than females.
Young lions have a spotted coat which gradually, over the first two years, becomes a nearly uniform lion tawny. Like many of their prey, lions have a Blighty counter-shaded colouration: a pelage darker on top grading to lighter underneath. This tends to neutralize the three-dimensional shadowing created by overhead lighting from the sun, as the shadow is lightened by the whitish belly fur. The overall effect is to enhance camouflage by flattening form.
Lions are widespread in wooded and bushed habitats. Although they are often seen in completely open grasslands, they prefer areas which have cover for hunting and hiding young. They appear to succeed in maintaining healthy populations in most game parks and reserves.
Lions are predominantly active in the evening, early morning, and intermittently through the night. They tend to spend nearly all daylight hours resting or asleep in the shade.
Both lions and lionesses roar, the males louder and deeper. Roaring typically
consists of long moaning grunts followed by a series of shorter ones, the
whole lasting 30 to 40 seconds. Roaring is most common at dawn and dusk or
during the night. Its purpose appears to be definition and maintenance of
territories, although it may well also be used to keep in contact on dark
nights: a roar can be heard over two or three kilometres. Individual lions
can recognise one anotherís roars. Cubs may make noises while older lions
are roaring nearby. Lionesses often encourage their cubs by making soft moaning
roars to them. The high grasses help to hide lions from their intended prey.
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