African Lion Reproduction in South Africa and Southern Africa:

A lioness in oestrus is closely followed by the males of the pride. When the female is ready to mate, an indication is given by her making advances to the male of her choice. Copulation is quick and noisy - lasting only a few seconds. After some 10 to 20 minutes, mating is repeated. This routine can continue unabated, day and night, for several days. The mating pair are reluctant to go off hunting with the other pride and usually remain behind. Interestingly, a pride will generally accept an outside lioness that is on heat!


A single male generally remains the consort of an oestrus lioness throughout the course of her mating period, although some lionesses may mate with more than one male. It is known that approximately one third of all mating sessions result in pregnancy, and should fertilization occur in perhaps the fourth day of oestrus, there is a high likelihood that multiple matings by a lioness may result in a litter where the cubs have different fathers. This could be simply to increase the genetic variation of her cubs, or to foster collective bonding within the pride, by the prevention of strong pair bonds forming, as well as greater pride cohesion: for example, males from the same pride often take over another pride together, which is more significant if they are closely related.

After a gestation period of about 110 days, the lioness will retreat to a secluded area to give birth. The average litter comprises of three cubs but this may vary from one to six in rare instances. The cubs weigh no more than 1.5 kg at birth: they are blind and barely able to crawl, and therefore helpless against predators. Their coats are fluffy and marked with dark rosettes - a phenomenon which is theoretically traced back to some primaeval leopard-like ancestor.

Lion cubs have characteristic long hair on the back of their necks, which is supposedly also to emulate honey badgers, which are known for their incredible ferociousness despite their small size. These early days are fraught with danger and the cubs are vulnerable to attack from hyaenas, leopards and black-backed jackals. Elephant and buffalo have been known to trample them to death and there are records of them having been killed by safari ants.


For the next six to eight weeks, the cubs are kept hidden from the pride: during this time the mother returns to suckle them, and spends a fair amount of time with them. At two months old they weigh approximately four kilograms and usually already have all of their teeth. They are then carried to the pride for introduction and inspection: first the pride male/s, and then the rest of the pride. The female mostly keeps her cubs away from the pride males, and is also cautious around strange females: she is very protective over them, and communicates with them via short humming calls.

The mother lioness will not introduce her cubs to the pride if cubs already established with the pride are over 3 months old, as any female in milk can be suckled by any cub, and large cubs will put her own cubs at a disadvantage in obtaining milk. From six months of age, the male cubs tend to grow faster than the females and at one year, their behaviour is consistent with that of adult males. They begin to grow a mane by 10 months, and take an interest in the hunt by one year of age, gradually learning to master hunting and killing techniques, and are independent at two years old.


Grooming plays an important part in bonding of the cubs and their mother, as well as the rest of the pride, and also is important in keeping each other clean. A vital element in the life of cubs is play: play involves stalking, chasing and ambushing, and is important for preparing them for hunting.

If cubs are present during a period when a pride male is ousted, their lives are at risk. The new pride male may kill and even eat the small cubs of his predecessor. By practicing infanticide, the new pride male ensures the early return to oestrus of their mother, and a mating opportunity for himself, as well as the survival of his genes within the pride.

Best places to see the African Lion in Southern Africa:

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Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park
Typical bush birding accommodation.
Bush Accommodation!


Kruger National Park - South Africa's biggest nature reserve is home to aproximately 2500 lions!
Pilanesberg National Park (South Africa)
Hluhluwe-Umfolozi National Park (South Africa)
Kalahari Gemsbok National Park (South Africa)
Etosha National Park (Namibia)
Chobe National Park (Botswana)
Kasunga National Park (Malawi)


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Mala Mala Game Reserve
Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve
Phinda Resources Reserve
Timbavati Private Game Reserve
Shamwari Game Reserve
Londolozi Private Game Reserve
Singita Private Game Reserve
Ngala Private Game Reserve
Makalali Private Game Reserve

Game Lodges,

Ruimte River Lodge -- Hoedspruit Area -- from the lodge you may visit the famous White Lions of the Timbavati


Okavango Delta (Botswana)
Savuti Marsh (Botswana)
Mashatu Game Reserve (Botswana)
Kaokaveld in northwestern Namibia

African Lion Links

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