King of the jungle, the lion, rules Vandalur zoo also

Chennai:  The roar of a lion can be heard even at the entrance of Arignar Anna Zoological Park a.k.a. Vandalur zoo, something which would have sent chills down the spine of other animals in the wild.

In this week’s News Today Zoo Tales, we will see about the king of the jungle as part of Wildlife Conservation Week as the theme this year is ‘Big cats – Predators under threat’.

Zoo veterinarian Pa Kalaignan said lion is considered the king of the jungle, and this is mostly because of its social structure of a pride and its royal look and attitude.

“Due to its pride structure, it lives out in the open unlike most other predators that live in a hideout. Just like the forest, here at the Arignar Anna Zoological Park, too, it has the top spot. The lion enclosure is located on top of a small mound inside the zoo premises. However, its roar can be heard even when we enter the gates of the zoo which is almost 1 km away,” he said, and added that the lion safari is one of the major attractions of the zoo.

He further said unlike popular belief, the male lion does not depend on the lioness to hunt and bring food. In fact, it has the bigger role of protecting its territory which ranges from 150 to 200 km, from intruders.

“The female takes care of the young ones. Once a male lion reaches the sub-adult age, it is sent out of the pride. They are not much of tactical hunters and are more dependent on their strength. They do not hunt unless it is absolutely necessary. They can easily bring down a prey bigger than their size when they hunt as a pride. The alpha will go for the kill, while the rest of the pride will concentrate on immobilising the animal,” said another veterinarian, K Sridhar.

He further said lion comes under Schedule One of the Wildlife Protection Act and that Asiatic lions can be found only in the Gir forest of India.

“They have excellent parental care with both mother and father taking care of the cub. However, the cub is more close to the mother than the father due to its unpredictable nature. The young ones are taught how to hunt by their mother,” he added.

PRIDE STRENGTH

Veterinarian Boon Allwin said living in a pride give lions strength in numbers. Even elephants do not unnecessarily disturb a lion pride. Only a very large pack of hyenas may challenge a pride over a kill, or elephants may sometimes chase lions away from a water hole. But other than that, the king retains his throne.

SOLID DIFFERENTIATION

It is not easy for people to differentiate the male and female animal of various species, including tigers and elephants. However, this is not the case when it comes to a lion as the mane of a male lion is one of its most distinctive features. The male Asiatic lion has a relatively short, sparse and darker mane compared to the fuller mane of the African lion. As a result, the male Asiatic lion’s ears tend to remain visible at all times. The mane of a male lion develops after puberty, that is, two years of age. The body length of a male lion can be up to 2.9 metres from nose to tail. They have a life span of about 18-20 years.

BREEDING PATTERNS

Lions do not have a particular breeding period and mate when the female is in heat. The females are ready for mating at four years and males are mature about three to five years. When the female is in estrus she may mate with the male multiple times per day. They may not even eat during this period of time. The gestation period is about 110 days. She will give birth to cubs in a den away from the rest of the pride. She will stay very close to the den and only hunt very small prey that she can take down on her own. This food will offer her the ability to continue producing milk for the young to consume.

The lion has been found to mate with other felines in the wild, creating some interesting hybrids. The tiger is the one that they most often mate with, including the Bengal Tiger and the Siberian Tiger. They are called Ligers and Tiglons. In controlled settings they have been mated with leopards with the offspring called Leopons. They have also mated with Jaguars and those are referred to as Jaglions.

UP NEXT: THE LION HUNTER

Though lion is the king of the jungle and other animals do not get into conflict with it, the hyena is the only animal that challenges and gives the lion a run for its money. We’ll get to know more about them in the next edition of News Today’s Zoo Tales 13 October.

Balasubramani Muniyandi