|Lion are the largest predator in Africa with male lions weighing an average of 190kg (420lbs) and standing some 1.25m high at the shoulder. Females are slightly shorter and considerably slimmer in build, weighing an average of 125kg (275lbs). Males are characterised by a large bushy mane around the throat, which, in some populations may extend right down the chest and belly. It is usually a tawny colour, somewhat darker than the rest of the coat, but in many populations may appear almost black. Although no subspecies are officially recognised, there is considerable variation, particularly in coat and mane colour and form, depending on locality. Males dwelling in thick thorn scrub are usually virtually maneless, whilst in some areas of the Kalahari the coat may be so pale as to be almost white.
Lion are also the only social cats. They live in prides varying from 5 to 30 in numbers (pride size is dependent upon food availability, terrain and hunting pressure), and co-operate in hunting. The lionesses, who tend to stay in the pride into which they are born, are responsible for most of the hunting effort within the pride. The pride male changes periodically, and his function within the pride is largely confined to breeding and protecting kills from hyaenas, or helping the pride rob other predators of their kills. There is a complex social organisation within the pride, and communal care of the cubs. One feature of lion social behaviour that has weighed against them under hunting pressure, is that when a new male takes over the pride, he kills off all the cubs from the previous incumbent. This immediately brings the females into oestrus again, and means that the new pride male doesn’t have to look after someone else’s cubs, but in an environment of heavy hunting pressure, the turn over in pride males can easily be sufficiently high so as to prevent any cubs from reaching maturity.
Lions are predominantly nocturnal hunters, and research has shown that hunts that occur when there is no (or little) moon have a 62% higher success rate than those that take place in bright moonlight or daytime. During the day lions tend to lie around in the shade, either digesting the previous meal or simply resting. They are seldom active more than a couple of hours after sunrise, and only become active again in the early evening.
Lions eat a considerable variety of prey ranging from mice to young elephants. Individual lion prides, however, often specialise in one particular species of prey. In Hwange national park some prides specialise in buffalo, whilst others specialise in diurnal attacks on giraffe. In Botswana, porcupines and other smaller animals form a significant proportion of some pride's diets. The individual hunting techniques of how to hamstring a giraffe without getting kicked to death, or flip over a porcupine without getting full of quills, is passed on from generation to generation.