Panthera leo melanochaita
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Southern African lion
The Southern African lion (Panthera leo melanochaita) is a lion subspecies in Southern Africa. In this part of Africa, lions occur in Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe, but are regionally extinct in Lesotho. Lion populations in intensively managed protected areas in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe have increased since the turn of the century.
The type specimen for P. l. melanochaita was a black-maned lion from the Cape of Good Hope, known as the Cape lion. The lion population in this part of South Africa is extinct. Living lion populations in other parts of Southern Africa were referred to as Transvaal lion, Kruger lion, Katanga lion and Kalahari lion.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, several lion type specimens from Southern Africa were described and proposed as subspecies:
- In 1842, Charles Hamilton Smith described a black-maned lion from the Cape of Good Hope under the name Felis (Leo) melanochaitus. Naturalists and hunters of the 19th century recognized it as a distinct subspecies because of its dark mane colour.
- In 1914, the Swedish zoologist Lönnberg described a male lion collected in the Katanga Province of Belgian Congo as type specimen of Felis leo bleyenberghi.
- In 1929, Austin Roberts described an adult male lion with a dark brown mane from the Sabi Sand Game Reserve as type specimen for the Kruger lion Leo leo krugeri, named in honour of Paul Kruger.
- In 1948, Roberts also described a yellow-maned male lion specimen from the Kalahari as type specimen for the Kalahari lion Leo leo vernayi. It had been collected by the Vernay-Lang Kalahari Expedition in 1930.
In the 20th century, some authors supported the view of the Cape lion being a distinct subspecies. In 1975, Vratislav Mazák hypothesized that the Cape lion evolved geographically isolated from other populations by the Great Escarpment. In the early 21st century, Mazák's hypothesis about a geographically isolated evolution of the Cape lion was challenged. Genetic exchanges between populations in the Cape, Kalahari and Transvaal Province regions and farther east are considered having been possible through a corridor between the Great Escarpment and the Indian ocean.
In 1939, the American zoologist Allen recognized the trinomina F. l. melanochaitus, F. l. bleyenberghi and F. l. krugeri as valid subspecies in Southern Africa. In the 1970s, the scientific name of the Kalahari lion P. l. vernayi was considered synonymous with P. l. krugeri. In 2005, the authors of Mammal Species of the World recognized P. l. melanochaita, P. l. bleyenberghi and P. l. krugeri as valid taxa. In 2016, IUCN Red List assessors subsumed all African lion populations to P. l. leo. In 2017, the Cat Classification Task Force of the Cat Specialist Group reduced the number of valid lion subspecies to two, namely P. l. melanochaita in Southern Africa and most parts of East Africa, and P. l. leo in India and North, West and Central Africa.
Results of phylogeographic studies support the notion of lions in Southern Africa being genetically close, but distinct from populations in Western and Northern Africa and Asia. Based on the analysis of samples from 357 lions from 10 countries, it is thought that lions migrated from Southern Africa to East Africa during the Pleistocene and Holocene eras. Results of a DNA analysis using 26 lion samples from Southern and Eastern Africa indicate that genetic variation between them is low and that two major clades exist: one in southwestern Africa and one in the region from Uganda and Kenya to KwaZulu-Natal.
Lions in South Africa are similar in general appearance and size to lions in other African countries. Males are around 2.6–3.2 m (8.5–10.5 ft) long including the tail. Females are 2.35–2.75 m (7.7–9.0 ft). Generally, males weigh 150–250 kg (330–550 lb), while the females weigh 120–182 kg (265–401 lb). They have a shoulder height of 0.92–1.23 m (3.0–4.0 ft). Male and female lions in Zimbabwe, the Kalahari and Kruger National Park in South Africa reportedly average 187.5–193.3 kg (413–426 lb) and 124.2–139.8 kg (274–308 lb), respectively. These measurements are greater than those of the average weights of East African lions. A few Southwest African lion specimens obtained by museums were described as having manes that vary in size, colour and development.
In 1936, a man-eating lion shot by Lennox Anderson, outside Hectorspruit in Eastern Transvaal weighed about 313 kg (690 lb) and was the heaviest wild lion on record. The longest wild lion reportedly was a male shot near Mucusso, southern Angola, in October 1973.
Distribution and habitat
The lion population in what used to be the Natal and Cape Provinces of South Africa had been locally extinct since the 1850s to late 1860s. The last lions south of the Orange River were sighted between 1850 and 1858. Eventually, lions were relocated to Addo Elephant National Park.
Elsewhere in Southern Africa, lions are confined to 23 unfenced and 16 fenced reserves; 10 of the fenced reserves are located in South Africa. Lion populations are also present in Namibia, Angola and northern Botswana. In the southwestern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, they are considered regionally extinct.
The lion range in nine Southern African protected areas totals 1,540,171 km2 (594,663 sq mi), of which the following protected area complexes are considered lion strongholds:
- North Luangwa National Park and South Luangwa National Park
- Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
- Okavango Delta cum Hwange National Park
- Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park
- Niassa Reserve
- Zambezi National Park with adjacent protected areas along Zambezi River in Zambia and Mozambique
Ecology and behaviour
Lions prefer to hunt large ungulates including zebras, warthogs, blue wildebeest, impalas, gemsbok, Thomson's gazelles, kobs, giraffes and buffaloes. They predominately hunt prey in the range of 40.0 to 270.0 kg (88.2 to 595.2 pounds).
Attacks on humans
- In February 2018, a suspected poacher was killed and eaten by lions near Kruger National Park.
- Towards the end of the same month, conservationist Kevin Richardson took three lions for a walk at Dinokeng Game Reserve, near Pretoria in South Africa. A lioness then pursued an impala for at least 2 km (1.2 mi), before unexpectedly killing a 22-year-old woman near her car.
In Africa, lions are threatened by pre-emptive killing or in retaliation for preying on livestock. Prey base depletion, loss and conversion of habitat have led to a number of subpopulations becoming small and isolated. Trophy hunting has contributed to population declines in Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Zambia.
African lion populations are included in CITES Appendix II. In several South African countries local communities generate significant revenue through wildlife tourism, which is a strong incentive for their support of conservation measures.
In 2010, the small and isolated Kalahari population was estimated at 683 to 1,397 individuals in three protected areas, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, the Kalahari Gemsbok and Gemsbok National Parks. More than 2000 lions exist in the well-protected Kruger National Park. In June 2015, seven lions were relocated from KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa to Akagera National Park in Rwanda.
In 2006, the registry of the International Species Information System (ISIS) showed 29 lions that were derived from animals captured in Angola and Zimbabwe. In addition, about 100 captive lions were registered as P. l. krugeri by ISIS, which derived from lions captured in South Africa.
Different countries have the lion named after themselves. For example, the name Zimbabwean African lion was used by the Public Library of Science in 2017 to talk about an increase in the number of lions there.
- Two notable victims of trophy hunters were the males Cecil and his son Xanda. They were respectively killed in 2015 and 2017, at Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park.
- Lobengula is a male lion that was employed as a guard animal by a game farmer in South Africa.
- A lone lioness that was named after Liuwa Plain National Park in Zambia, besides a male that was meant to be her partner, that is Nakawa.
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