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Lions

 

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Overview
No other animal captures the image of strength and majesty like the lion. Thousands of years ago, these powerful felines were found from the Mediterranean to India. Today the king of beasts is largely restricted to Africa, south of the Sahara desert, where some live in the woodlands and savannas of protected reserves. Like all cats, the lion is a muscular hunting machine. Unlike the cheetah, the lion is built for strength, not speed. A male lion often weighs between 160 and 180 kilograms (350 to 400 pounds) and is 3 meters (10 feet) long, including the tail. The female lion weighs about 150 kilograms (330 pounds). The shoulder and forelegs are well developed, enabling lions to clutch prey and pull it to the ground. If its prey is small, the lion may bite through the skull or neck with its powerful jaws. Larger animals (like the zebra or wildebeest-the lion's preferred prey) are usually strangled with a throat bite. Of its 30 teeth, the four canine teeth are used to hold and puncture, while the four carnassial teeth cut through tough skin and meat. With no teeth for chewing, this carnivore swallows its food in chunks, eating about 7 kilograms (15 pounds) of flesh a day. Lions live in prides, often consisting of four to twelve adult females, their cubs, and one to six adult males. The lionesses are usually related to each other and stay together for their lifetimes. They are the main hunters of the pride. The males leave the pride when they grow up and are replaced by newcomers, sometimes in deadly fights. Lions are territorial. The size of the territory is largely determined by the number of pride members and the amount of prey. It is the male's role to roar and mark its territory by urinating. The roar is often heard at dawn or dusk as a warning to intruders. It is produced by the vibration of cartilage in the back of the lion's throat, and the frightening sound may carry five miles (eight kilometers).Tracts of land, such as Kenya's Maasai Mara Game Reserve and the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, have been set aside to protect lions and other wild animals. But as the human population grows, there will be more pressure to turn parkland into farmland. And now lions face an additional threat. Many suffer from distemper, a viral disease which causes anemia, blindness, seizures, muscle spasms, and even death. Veterinarians from around the world are trying to isolate the virus and discover how the animals are exposed to it.

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