It's World Lion Day! With our legacy of progressive wildlife conservation and recent successes in re-establishing a lion pride on the Liuwa Plain, we are proud to have conservation at the core of Time + Tide's principles. Working with partners such as African Parks, Conservation Lower Zambezi and the Zambian Carnivore Project, Time + Tide supports big cat conservation across all three of our Zambian destinations. To celebrate these beautiful cats, we have gathered our favourite lion photographs and some fascinating facts about them:
1. Lions are keystone predators, meaning they help to create feeding opportunities for many other scavenging animals, as well help control populations of grazing animals.
2. Lions have been around since the Ice Age, when they ranged across Africa, Eurasia, the Indian subcontinent and the Americas from the Yukon to modern-day Peru.
3. Lions first evolved 1 million years ago in Africa. The modern lion first appeared 100,000 years ago in East and Southern Africa.
4. Lions have been bred in captivity for so long that 77% of them do not match known genetic groups in the wild. This means that captive bred lions could represent a large genetic diversity boost for dwindling wild populations.
5. Lions are generally tawny coloured, but there are small, wild sub-populations with rare colourations. In South Africa, there is a population known for leucism, which results in very pale blond fur; and in Iran there is a melanistic population with deep brown, almost black fur.
6. Lions sleep around 20 hours per day. Right after dawn, there is a flurry of socialising and grooming activity. Overnight there are small bursts of activity, and right around dawn hunting activity peaks.
7. Lions are the most social of all big cats. Family groups of mostly females, cubs and a dominant male are called prides. Groups of single adult males are called coalitions.
8. Lions are classified as 'hypercarnivores', meaning that more than 70% of their diet consists of meat.
9. Lions have a preferred weight range for their prey of 190 - 550 kgs (420 - 1,210 lbs). Larger prey is too difficult or dangerous to hunt, and smaller prey generally does not provide enough food to justify the energy expended in hunting it. They will hunt smaller animals, such as warthogs, as necessary.
10. Lions have several fierce rivals for territory and food, but none more so than hyenas. Both are large, social predators that play a similar role in the ecosystem, so tensions can grow very high, especially when a kill is involved.
11. Lion cubs have distinctive spots that help them blend into the undergrowth for better camouflage. These slowly fade as they reach adulthood.
12. Lions rub each others' heads and lick each others' heads and necks as a form of friendly greeting.
Photos by Andrew Macdonald, Heinrich van den Berg, Will Burrard Lucas and Adrian Steirn