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Meet the Big Five - The Lion

Author: Lauren Curd

If you’ve ever read about safaris or spoken to friends and family about holidays they have taken in Africa, no doubt you’ve come across the term ‘The Big Five’. This collective name for a specific group of animals incorporates Lion, African Elephant, Cape Buffalo, Leopard and Rhino and was coined by hunters who classified these animals as the five most difficult to hunt on foot. Nowadays, the phrase is used to refer to the finest animals to sight on a safari.

Many of Africa’s best-loved national parks and game reserves house the Big Five, including the Masai Mara in Kenya, Tanzania’s Serengeti, Kruger National Park in South Africa, Botswana’s Chobe National Park and South Luangwa National Park in Zambia. In our latest blog series, we take a closer look at each remarkable member of the Big Five, starting with the lion...


Typically lions have a sandy brown fur coat which camouflages them when hunting in dry grass, and soft pads on their paws to silence their movement. Retractable claws help to keep them sharp and avoid injury. Male lions feature a mane of hair that covers the back of the head and shoulders to protect them when fighting, with fur that darkens with age. Eyes are well-adapted to low light conditions to make hunting at night easier. A slim, long tail is used as a signalling method during group hunts and for leading cubs when travelling through long grass or bushveld. The tassel found at the end of the tail is to protect the end of the tail bone. Lions’ teeth are designed for killing prey and devouring it. 

Lion yawning


Lions are carnivores and will therefore eat any meat that they can find. Lionesses do almost all of the hunting, preying on wildebeest, giraffe, zebra and various antelope. Lions will also eat hares and birds when food is in short supply.

Life expectancy

Wild lions in Africa live between 10 – 16 years.


In large prides of between 6-40 lions, averaging 15. Despite being known as the ‘King of the Jungle’, lions actually live on grasslands, plains and open wooded areas.

Did You Know

A lion’s roar can be heard up to 5 miles away. Hearing this noise in the still of the night in the middle of African bush is electrifying!

Not much compares to the thrill of spotting your first lion in the African bush, and despite being endangered, they thankfully aren’t too hard to find - it would be unusual to go on a safari in Africa and not see at least a couple of these majestic cats during your adventure. Unlike the leopard and cheetah, lions are pretty lazy creatures and can usually be sighted lolling around in the sunshine; digesting their latest meal or building up the energy for their next hunt. To see these beasts at their most active, we recommend travelling during migration when you may witness a pride preying on wildebeest and zebra and bringing down a kill.

South Africa’s Eastern Cape is home to the incredibly rare and striking white lions, with Pumba Private Game Reserve housing a pride of these beauties whose unusual appearance is due to a recessive gene. In 2013, a new litter of cubs were born at Pumba, and three out of the four baby lions were white.

Safari goers in Botswana should keep eyes peeled for the black-maned lions living in the Kalahari that have adapted over time to the harsh desert conditions. This particular species are leaner and lighter than their Serengeti siblings, due to the extensive travelling involved in finding prey in the desert, and can be easily identified by the faint spots on their leg fur and the darker hair of their manes. The Savuti area of Botswana’s Chobe National Park, renowned for unusual wildlife behaviour, is also prime lion territory, and the cats here have an unusual specialism for bringing down fully grown elephants for dinner.


**This blog post was previously published on Medway Leisure Travel, now trading as Pettitts Travel**

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