Lions live as communal animals in prides that consist of approximately 15 individual lions, many of which are baby or young lions. The baby lions find safety and care within the group. Lions are not considered to be full grown until they are 5 to 6 years old, but they are capable hunters by the age of 2 and are able to contribute to the needs of the pride at that point.
Pregnancy and Gestation
Female lions give birth to a litter of cubs approximately every two years. They are receptive to mating several times a year, as long as they do not have young cubs under the age of 18 months. Mating spurs ovulation. The impregnated female gives birth to cubs after a gestation period of 110 days. There are one to six cubs per litter.
Lion cubs are born blind and helpless. They weigh approximately 0.907 to 1.81kg. and have yellow-red fur with light spots that will fade as they grow. For the first few weeks of their life, the lion cubs remain in seclusion away from the rest of the pride, with only their mothers tending to them.
Lion cubs suckle for the first six months of their lives. A lioness will allow other cubs than her own to suckle, and in this way, the mothers take care of the cubs communally. The cubs begin eating meat at 3 months of age. They begin participating in pride kills at 11 months of age, although they cannot survive on their own until about 30 months of age.
Mothers of lion cubs of similar age often form a "creche" (a nursery where the cubs are cared for by all mothers). The creche remains together for one to two years. The lion cubs nurse together, are protected and are taught to hunt, staying hidden in tall grass or among rocks, at first, and eventually participating in the kill.
Fewer than 50 per cent of newborn cubs survive the first year of their lives. Frequently, they starve. Lion prides only make a kill every three to five days, and the cubs are the lowest on the hierarchy to receive food, with the males feeding first and the females feeding second. Infanticide is another danger to lion cubs, accounting for 25 per cent of all cub deaths. Male lions frequently kill all new cubs in a pride they take over in an effort to encourage the female lions to mate.