Shoulder height 100–120cm. Weight 150–220kg.
Africa's largest predator, the lion is the animal that everybody hopes to see on safari. It is a sociable creature, living in prides of five to over 20 animals and defending a territory of between 20 and 200km2. Lions often hunt at night, and their favoured prey is large or medium antelope such as wildebeest and impala. Most of the hunting is done by females, but dominant males normally feed first after a kill.
Rivalry between males is intense and take-over battles are frequently fought to the death, so two or more males often form a coalition. Young males are forced out of their home pride at three years of age, and cubs are usually killed after a successful take-over.
When not feeding or fighting, lions are remarkably indolent – they spend up to 23 hours of any given day at rest – so the anticipation of a lion sighting is often more exciting than the real thing. Lions naturally occur in any habitat, except desert or rainforest. They once ranged across much of the Old World, but these days they are all but restricted to the larger conservation areas in sub-Saharan Africa (one residual population exists in India).
Lions occur throughout Botswana, and are very common in the main northern areas of Chobe, Linyanti-Kwando and the Okavango. They also range across the Kalahari, in the Nxai/Makgadikgadi areas, and the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, though the relative scarcity of prey leads to small, dissociated pride structures which have vast territories.
In the northern reserves, where food is plentiful, the converse is the case. Large prides are the norm and some, like those currently around North Gate and Savuti, have become so big that they make a speciality of killing young and juvenile elephants in order to have enough meat to go around. Even visiting these prolific reserves for just a few days, you're unlikely to not to see at least some lion!