Ferocious predators, efficient hunters, and merciless beasts– it’s no wonder why lions are called the king of the wild. They are a symbol of strength in the animal world and comprise the most significant and popular animal species.
Lions are spread mainly across the African continent and some parts of Asia. They are the second-largest feline species (the largest being tigers) and lie at the top of the animal food chain.
Most lions are found in the savannas of Africa and constitute over 95% of the current lion population. But there is another subspecies of these wild beasts found in smaller numbers in Asia.
Although genetically almost the same as their African counterparts, Asiatic lions (taxonomically called Panthera leo persica) exhibit several physical and behavioral traits that are unique and unknown to most of us. But not any longer.
Many facts about the Asiatic Lion can leave you surprised and amazed simultaneously. And we will share some of them with you in the following sections. Let’s start right away.
Asiatic lions have vanished from most of Asia!
The term “Asiatic Lion” suggests that these lions inhabit several parts of Asia. But when we look at the current data, these lions are only found in one Asian country– India. And even in India, Asiatic lions mainly live in the Gir Forest region of the western state of Gujarat.
About 200 years ago, this subspecies lived across much of Southwest Asia and India. They lived in Iran, Iraq, the Mesopotamian region, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. They were abundant in India across the western, central, and eastern regions.
But sadly, hunting, poaching, habitat destruction, and other cruel human activities led to the extinction of most of these lions.
Today, less than a thousand of these lions remain in Gir Forest and the surrounding regions. However, their number is steadily increasing, which is good news.
They are smaller than their African cousins.
Asiatic lions are dangerously large, like all lions. But they are smaller than their African counterparts. Due to their smaller size, the Asiatic lions might appear weaker than African lions.
The average weight of a male Asiatic lion ranges from 350 to 450 pounds. Its African brother weighs more, between 330 and 500 pounds. A similar difference occurs between the female lions of the two regions. The Asiatic lionesses weigh a few pounds less.
The relatively smaller sizes of Asiatic lions are mainly due to evolutionary differences. Asiatic lions found in the Gir Forest region tend to be smaller. This is apparently because it would be difficult for bigger and heavier ones to move faster through the forest.
Besides, the prey available in the region is not sufficiently abundant for the lions. As a result, the size and weight of these lions are smaller as they eat less.
These distinguishing features that set the Asiatic lions apart from African lions:
Asiatic lions are smaller than their African cousins. But the difference is not just in their sizes. The fact is, you can easily tell an Asiatic lion from a group of African lions. You just need to know some striking differences between the two subspecies.
A distinctive longitudinal fold of skin hangs loosely below the abdomen of an Asiatic lion. This skin fold is called the Primordial Pouch and is absent in the African subspecies.
It is unclear why the primordial pouch is absent in African lions, but this feature is commonly found in cats. The pouches protect the vital internal organs of the abdomen from attack or injury.
They also differ from the African lions due to a larger tail tuft and darker, sparser manes in males.
Asiatic lions are social creatures, but with a twist.
All lions are social animals, and the same is true for Asiatic lions. They hunt in groups called prides. But the pride structure of Asiatic lions is somewhat different than those of African lions.
A typical pride of Asiatic lions consists of two to three females and their cubs. Most prides don’t have male members. Male members are usually less social and live and hunt separately in small groups of two or three.
The smaller size of the pride is due to the smaller size of the prey found in the Gir Forest region. Moreover, the smaller habitat size makes it inconvenient for the lions to operate in larger prides. Male Asiatic lions only join the females in the mating season or when they have to hunt larger prey.
They pee to mark their territory (seriously!)
Every animal has its way of marking its territorial borders. And Asiatic lions have a smelly way of defending their territory. The male lions urinate on a region, usually beside a tree, and roar loudly to notify other males.
The method of marking one’s territory is called scent marking and is prevalent among many animals, including monkeys, bears, and wolves. However, these animals do not necessarily urinate to do that.
An Asiatic lion’s territory depends on various factors, such as the availability of prey and water, the pride size, and hunting space.
Different prides often engage in violent clashes to gain power over a territory. When this happens, the males of each pride try to dominate the others with thunderous roars. But when the issue worsens, these territorial clashes result in fights, with the winner chasing off the loser away from the region.
Asiatic lions are ardent sleepers!
When we think about lions, we imagine them walking in their unique demeanor, staring coldly, roaring ferociously, chasing down their prey, or even biting the flesh off their prey. But in reality, the Asiatic lions do not do any of these things most of the time.
Another one of lesser-known Asiatic lion facts is that they sleep and sleep for most of the day. They sleep for 20 hours daily and spend the remaining hours hunting and eating their prey. Sometimes, they eat parts of their prey in shifts if it is a larger animal, such as a buffalo.
And due to the lack of great stamina, the lions need a long rest after hunting and eating to digest the food and reenergize themselves – their 20-hour sleep schedule ensures this.
Asiatic lions enrich various Asian traditions and mythologies.
Asiatic lions have been in Asia for over a hundred thousand years. As a result, they are an indispensable part of the culture, traditions, and mythologies of the Asian people. Be it India, Sri Lanka, Singapore, or China. Lions are present in folklore, legend, and sculptures of Asian lands.
In India, the fourth incarnation of Lord Vishnu is the half-human-half-lion creature – Narasimha. Nara means man, and Simha means lion. The State Emblem of India – adapted from the Ashokan Lion Capital – also has lions as one of the main symbols.
Singapore literally means city of lions, and Sri Lanka derives its Sanskrit name, Sinhala, from the abode of lions. The lion also appears in various Chinese traditions, such as the lion dance of Buddhism and the stone sculptures of the Han Dynasty.
Evidence of the lion being an important symbol in Iran, Iraq, and the surrounding areas has been found multiple times.
Today, Asiatic lions face many threats.
We have talked about many interesting facts about the Asiatic lion so far. But these lions face many threats today that can lead to their extinction.
Since almost all the Asiatic lions live in a small region in and around the Gir Forest, they are prone to be the victims of several natural calamities like forest fires that are not very rare in dry forested areas. The limited area of existence also poses another danger– contagious diseases. These diseases can spread very quickly among them and can be catastrophic for the Asiatic Lion Community.
Although the population of Asiatic lions is lately on the rise, they remain an endangered species in India, protected by the government. But they still face risks of illegal hunting and poaching. Many lions have also died due to more infrequent events, such as drowning in unguarded wells.
Lions carry an air of power, strength, and domination wherever they go. And Asiatic lions are no exception when exhibiting these innate qualities of wild cats. But these lions native to India have many more interesting things to talk about. Keen on learning more about majestic but endangered big cat species? Check out our Bengal Tiger facts blog here.
In fact, our country is blessed to be home to such a diverse variety of flora & fauna. Learning more about this diversity is just as essential as taking pride in them at a global level. Now that you’ve learned about these creatures, you’re in a better position to help protect their dwindling numbers.
While we’re on the subject of Asiatic lion facts, let’s ask you this: Have you ever heard of a monkey that happens to have a tail like the lions’? Here’s where you can learn more about these primates.