Lions are the second largest living cats after tigers. Lions are the most socially inclined of all wild felids, most of which remain quite solitary in nature.
The lion is a predatory carnivore with two types of social organization. Some lions are residents, living in prides – groups of related lionesses, their mates, and offspring. Females form the stable social unit in a pride and do not tolerate outside females. Membership only changes with the births and deaths of lionesses, although some females do leave and become nomadic. Nomads range widely and move about sporadically, either singularly or in pairs. Pairs are more frequent among related males who have been excluded from their birth pride. A lion may switch lifestyles; nomads may become residents and vice versa. Males, as a rule, live at least some portion of their lives as nomads, and some are never able to join another pride. A female who becomes a nomad has much greater difficulty joining a new pride, as the females in a pride are related, and they reject most attempts by an unrelated female to join their family group.
Lions are the only members of the cat family to display obvious sexual dimorphism – that is, males and females look distinctly different. They also have specialised roles that each gender plays in the pride. For instance, the lioness, the hunter, lacks the male’s thick mane. The colour of the male’s mane varies from blond to black, generally becoming darker as the lion grows older.
The Transvaal lion is the southernmost subspecies of African lions. Transvaal lions feed on herbivorous mammals such as zebras, African buffalo, wildebeests, warthogs and blesboks. They might prey on larger animals like southern white rhinos, South African giraffes and South African ostriches on certain occasions.
Lions tend to dominate smaller felines such as cheetahs and leopards where they co-occur, stealing their kills and killing their cubs and even adults when given the chance. The cheetah has a 50% chance of losing its kill to lions or other predators. Lions are major killers of cheetah cubs, up to 90% of which are lost in their first weeks of life due to attacks by other predators. Cheetahs avoid competition by hunting at different times of the day and hide their cubs in thick brush. Leopards also use such tactics, but have the advantage of being able to subsist much better on small prey than either lions or cheetahs.
Similarly, lions dominate African wild dogs, not only taking their kills but also preying on young and, rarely, adult dogs. Population densities of wild dogs are low in areas where lions are more abundant.