Lion

Panthera leo
A lion club in Yankari Game Reserve ©Renato Stecca

Lion is called kìnìún in Yoruba and admired in the culture as the king of all animals because of its glossy skin and its mane, the impressive fringe of long hair that encircles the heads of their males. Lion is the most distinctive member of the Carnivora order. The scientific name, Panthera leo was given by Linnaeus, the foremost taxonomist. Head and body is 140 to 200 cm long, the tail adds some more 67 to 100cm. A lion’s height while on its four feet may be up to ankle length of a 6-foot tall human. The weight of the lion ranges from 120 to 191 kg. There are only minor differences in the eight subspecies of lion. Among these, the senegalensis, called the West African lion is the classification under which the very few remaining lions found in Nigeria today resides. Formerly widespread across northern Nigeria, some 35 were reported to exist in the whole country by 2013. About 15 lions were estimated to live within Nigeria’s Yankari Game Reserve, while the remaining 30-35 lions were found to reside in Kainji Lake National Park in western Nigeria. These fragile populations represented two of only four known lion populations that remained in West Africa.

The primary reason for the decline of Nigeria and West Africa’s lions is human-lion conflict. When overhunting occurs of the lions prey base by local people, lions often turn to an easy and available food source – people’s livestock. These scenarios rarely end well for lions, who are frequently hunted or poisoned by villagers in retribution. The growth of human populations and the expansion of agricultural developments into the lion’s habitat only serve to aggravate this problem. Without concerted action, it is likely that Nigeria’s lions will disappear. For all their roaring, growling, and ferociousness, lions are more social than all animals in the cat family. Each group of lions, called “pride” is a family unit. Mostly active during twilight, lions live for 10–14 years in the wild, while in captivity they can live longer than 20 years.