A Lion Social Group is Known as a Pride

Lionesses with cubs by river at sunset in South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
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The lion (Panthera leo) has a number of characteristics that make it different from the other wild predatory cats of the world, and among those key differences is its social behavior. While some lions are nomads, traveling and hunting individually or in pairs, most lions live in a social organization known as a pride. This is quite unique among the world's large cat species, most of which are lone hunters throughout their adult lives.

The Organization of a Pride

The size of a lion pride can vary widely, and the structure differs between African and Asian subspecies. Pride of African lions typically consist of about three males and about a dozen females along with their young,  although there have been prides as large as 40 animals observed. On average, a lion pride consists of about 14 animals. In the rarer Asian subspecies, however, lions divide themselves in gender-specific prides—male and female groups remain separate except at mating time.  

In the typical African pride, the females form the core, and generally remain in the same pride from birth until death, although they are occasionally are expelled from the pride. The females in the pride are generally related to one another since they usually remain in the same pride for such a long time. Due to this permanence, a lion pride can be said to be a matriarchal social structure.

Male cubs remain in the pride for about three years, then become wandering nomads for about two years until taking over a new pride or forming a new one at about age 5. However, some males remain nomads for life. Long-term nomadic males rarely reproduce, however, since most fertile females belong to prides, which are protective of their members. On rare occasions, a group of new male lions, usually young nomads, may take over an existing pride; during this kind of take-over, the intruders may try to kill the offspring of other males. 

Because the life expectancy for male lions is considerably shorter, their tenure within a pride is relatively short. Males are in their prime from about ages 5 to 10, then usually are driven from the pride once they no longer capable of fathering cubs. They rarely remain part of the pride for more than 3 to 5 years. A pride with older males is ripe for takeover by a group of young nomad males. 

Lion Cubs Playing On Field
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Pride Behavior

Cubs within the pride are often born near the same time, and the females serve as communal parents. The females will suckle one another's young, but weaker offspring are often left to fend for themselves and often die as a consequence.

Lions usually hunt together with other members of their pride—some experts theorize that it is the hunting advantage that a pride offers in the open plains that led to the evolution of the pride social structure. Such hunting areas are often populated by large prey animals weighing as much as 2200 pounds, which makes hunting in groups a necessity. Nomadic lions are more likely to feed on smaller prey weighing as little as 30 pounds.

A lion pride spends a good deal of time in idleness and sleep, with males patrolling the perimeter to guard against intruders. Within the pride structure, females lead the hunt for prey, and after the kill the pride gathers to feast, squabbling among themselves. While they do not lead the hunt in the pride attack, nomadic male lions are very skilled hunters, when they are often forced to hunt small, very swift game. Whether in groups or alone, the lion hunting strategy is generally slow, patient stalking followed by short bursts of speed to attack. Lions do not have great stamina and do not do well in long pursuit.