On the plains of Africa, where wild lions live, females such as "Nala" (at bottom right, R.I.P.) would play a critical role in the extended lion family, called a pride. They would not only take primary responsibility for hunting prey, often doing so in groups, they would also play mom to dozens of cubs throughout their lifetime.
Male lions, like "Mufasa" (left) also play an important family role. By the age of about two years, the adult cats in a pride will help push a young male out to live a lonely few months on his own. That trying time helps him build the skills he'll need to survive as an adult. The strongest will move on to find another lion pride with females to whom they are not related so they may breed with multiple females and father cubs of their own. By challenging older, ailing males, a strong young male can take his place within the pride as a father and protector.
This very structured life pattern assures genetic diversity among wild lion populations, which is one of the reasons lions are considered among the strongest of the animal kingdom. Their social lifestyle is a form of teamwork that is unique among cats.
Mufasa joined Black Pine's family in June 2011. He was ordered by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to be moved due to concerns of escape from a cage that needed repairs. Mufasa's home at Black Pine is his third, having been born in captivity and kept as a pet, then rescued and housed at the facility that became too dilapidated to keep him safely. He has endured at least three surgeries over the years to address issues with teeth and bones in his jaw, riddled with infection for many years. These kinds of ailments, which can be treated by veterinarians, would result in certain death fora wild lion.
Born in captivity, Nala was being raised by a family keeping her as a house pet. They were "training" her as one would a large dog. It was only when the head of household and his wife were in divorce court that a judge ruled the cat needed to be removed from the home, where two children were also living. Nala was going to be euthanized, but the judge stepped in and found Black Pine just in time. Nala arrived when she was just a few months old and passed away on June 5, 2013 at nearly 19 years of age due to cancer. (To learn how you can make a donation that will be matched dollar for dollar in Nala's memory, click here.)
InfoBox - Lion
Diet in wild: Mainly large African animals including gazelles, zebra, buffalo, etc.; sometimes small rodents or lizards if other prey are scarce.
Life span in wild: 15 to 18 years.
Weight: Males 330 to 530 pounds; females 270 to 400 pounds.
Native habitat: South Sahara to South Africa.