No other animal is as beloved and respected as the lion. Although, they are regarded as dangerous predators, they are still fragile against the brutal force of humanity. Over the years the population of lions has decreased drastically, and as such they have been regarded as vulnerable. Their life cycle begins with sexual reproduction resulting in a lioness giving birth to cubs.
Both male and female lions are polygamous and breed all year round, however the females are usually stuck with the few adult males of their pride. When in captivity lions can breed every year, but in the wild they breed only once in two years. The female is receptive to mating for only three or four days within a variable reproductive cycle. At that time, a pair can mate every 20 to 30 minutes, reaching up to 50 copulations in a day. The extended copulation stimulates ovulation in the female and it also secures paternity for the male by excluding other potential male mates. When a female lion becomes pregnant the gestation period can be about 108 days, plus the litter size will vary from one to six cubs.
The cubs are born blind and helpless with a thick coat with dark spots that disappears with maturity. Being helpless, the cubs are vulnerable to attacks by other animals. In order to avoid the build-up of the scent that attracts the attention of predators, a lioness will move her cubs to a new den site several times in a month, carrying each one seperately. These cubs must stay close to their mothers for about 2 to 3 months. When the cubs are 6 weeks old they are introduced to the pride. At that time, the cubs learn to develop confidence around other lions as they slowly get acquainted with the other lions in the pride but the male lions are not as tolerant as the lionesses. It has been observed that the lionesses in a pride can synchronize their reproductive cycle in order to give birth to their cubs in almost the same time. In such cases, the cubs are introduced to the pride earlier. They only start eating meat from the hunted prey after three months or so. The life cycle of a wild lion can span from 8 to 10 years and when in captivity they can live for more than 20 years of age. The young lions are only able to follow their mothers when they are about three months old. They can only be weaned when they are six or seven months old. Some even participate in kills by the age of 11 months but they cannot survive on their own until they are two or so years old.
Interestingly, the female lions can nurse other cubs apart from their own but they are inattentive mothers that often leave their cubs alone for more than a day. However, the cubs have a high mortality rate and their survival rates improve after the cubs turn two. Sexual maturity is reached at the age of three or four years, when in the wild but a lot of female cubs remain with the pride when they attain sexual maturity, whilst others are forced out to join other prides or wander as nomads. Male cubs, on the other hand are expelled from the pride at the age of three and they become nomads until they are old enough to take over another pride. This usually happens after they are 5 years or so but a lot of adult males remain nomads throughout their lives. Mating opportunities for nomad male lions are rare, plus the competition between male lions to defend thier territory and mate with the pride females is incredibly fierce. There are instances where they are cooperating partnerships of two or even four males in maintaining tenure with a pride than with individual male lions. Small coalitions on the other hand, consist of related males, but larger ones often include unrelated lions. If a new group of males is able to take over a pride, they try to kill young cubs sired by their predecessors. As a result, this shortens the time before the cubs’ mothers are ready to mate again. In addition, the female lions can attempt to prevent this infanticide by hiding their cubs or in some cases directly defending their cubs. Lionesses are usually more successful when it comes to protecting older cubs, because they would be leaving the pride sooner. Lions rarely live for more than 8 to 10 years, because of the attacks by humans or other lions and often due to the effects of kicks and gorings from prey defending itself. In captivity however, the lions can live up to 20 to 25 years or more.
The life cycle of a lion is not that different from many animals. First, they are born a cub, a young lion, and then they become an adult lion. Also, a lions life cycle is not that complicated. By the age of three, the male lions can leave their prides and create a new one. It is also important to note that a male lion and a female lion’s life span are not the same. Males can live up to 16 years on average, but they usually live to 10 to 12 years. The female lions can live up to 18 years but, they normally live to 12 or 13 years on average. After a cub is born it can take about 10 days for it to start walking and another 4 to 6 weeks to be introduced to the pride. It then takes another 6 months to a year to wean a young lion and it learns to hunt after an additional 11 months. Thereafter it can take 3 to 4 years for the lion to reach sexual maturity and it may need 5 to 6 more years to grow to maturity. Finally, a lion’s life expectancy may be under 20 years in the wild and under 25 years in captivity.